Objectives: We previously characterized the porcine aortic leaflet interstitial cell phenotype as having both synthetic and contractile characteristics; that is, it is a myofibroblast. In this study we hypothesized (1) that the cryopreservation of aortic valves causes a significant reduction in cell density, (2) that it simultaneously causes alterations in representative components of extracellular matrix, and (3) that both of these processes are reversible. Methods: Seventy-two leaflets from 24 porcine aortic valves were studied. Whole valves were subjected to variable lengths of preharvest ischemia (group 1), ischemia followed by processing analogous to clinical methods (group 2), and ischemia followed processing with an organ culture type of resuscitation (group 3). Vital dye exclusion by cells enzymatically dispersed from leaflets was used to quantify viability. Electron and light microscopy, immunohistochemical assay, and a silicone rubber substratum contractility assay were used both in dispersed cell preparations and in leaflet cross sections to examine structural, ultrastructural, and functional changes across the 3 groups through a range of preharvest ischemic times. Results: Results indicated that harvest ischemic periods between 2 and 24 hours after donor death were not responsible for cell number reductions. During this interval overt dissolution of chondroitin sulfate simultaneous with a relative sparing of fibronectin was evidenced by immunohistochemical staining. Although not reduced in number, ischemic interstitial cells did show significant ultrastructural evidence of injury and suppressed monoclonal binding to vimentin and α-smooth muscle actin. After cryopreservation, viable cell numbers were always markedly reduced at all ischemic intervals and damage to both soluble extracellular matrix components and cell ultrastructure was increased. At all time and processing points, however, some retention of matrix secretory and cellular contractile capabilities was observed among the surviving cells. After the extended periods of preharvest ischemia (2-24 hours) followed by processing, a restitution of functioning cells was accomplished by means of whole-leaflet incubation in 15% fetal bovine serum. Conclusions: After application of the described methods, new cells within restored intact leaflets as well as in single-cell preparations demonstrated normal ultrastructure and contractile and synthetic functions (normal phenotypic expression). If functioning leaflet interstitial cells can contribute to homograft durability, bioengineering methods for pretransplantation cell repopulation could be refined with these techniques and applied to clinical valve transplantation.
Messier, R. H., Bass, B. L., Domkowski, P. W., & Hopkins, R. A. (1999). Interstitial cellular and matrix restoration of cardiac valves after cryopreservation. Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery, 118(1), 36–49. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0022-5223(99)70139-X