The present study aimed at developing a small animal transplantation model of accelerated calcifying degeneration, in order to evaluate degenerative in vivo processes in biological heart valves and vascular implants. Male Wistar rats (recipients) with an interventionally induced aortic insufficiency grade II – III (AI; day -14) were fed with a diet containing high-dose vitamin D, cholesterol and calciumphosphate. Aortic conduits of Sprague-Dawley rats (donors) were decellularized according to a detergent-based protocol and infrarenally implanted (day 0) in an end-to-side manner in the recipients (group A; n = 6). Cryopreserved implants served as controls (group B; n = 6). Doppler sonography was conducted at days -14, 0, 28 and 84. Graft explantation, histological and immunohistochemical analyses were performed at days 28 and 84. In all recipients AI grade II – III with subsequent reversed diastolic flow in the abdominal aorta was confirmed. Sonographic competence of the conduit perfusion and overall survival were 100%. After 12 weeks severe calcification of the native aortic media as well as of the aortic conduit implants was observed (vKossa staining), however, in group A diet-induced calcification was significantly lower as compared to group B (p <0.01). Histological evaluation of the conduit implants revealed an intimal hyperplasia, involving α-smooth muscle actin expressing cells, with an increased intima-to-media ratio (p < 0.001) and inflammatory activity (CD3+) in group B versus group A. During the later follow-up, intimal hyperplasia and severe calcification aggravated. After 12 weeks, in opposite to group A explants, all grafts of group B contained Syndecan-3-expressing cells with a chondroid phenotype. Our rapidly calcifying rat transplantation model enables detailed evaluation of native and tissue-engineered aortic conduits, especially in terms of degenerative processes. Compared to cryopreserved grafts, decellularization significantly diminished the calcifying degeneration and intimal hyperplasia of aortic conduit implants. Further work will focus on the characterization of the de novo interstitial repopulation, particularly on the nature of the chondroid cells and their role in graft degeneration.


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  • Accepted: 30 May 2012
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