Objective: Life expectancy of cryopreserved allografts implanted in infants is different from those implanted in adults. A morphological study of explanted allograft heart valves was performed to determine the mechanism of deterioration and to compare cryopreserved arterial and heart valve allografts from adult patients with those explanted from infants.
Method: Between 1987 and 1996, 209 cryopreserved allografts were implanted: 125 valved conduits or monocusps to reconstruct the right ventricular outflow tract in congenital heart disease, 50 allograft heart valves to treat native aortic and prosthetic aortic valve endocarditis and 34 cryopreserved arterial allografts to replace mycotic aortic aneurysms or infected aortic prosthetic grafts. Two months to 8 years after implantation, 23 heart valve allografts, 11 right-sided and 12 left-sided, and four arterial allografts had to be explanted for reasons such as degeneration, recurrent infection, aneurysm formation or rupture. Besides conventional staining, immunohistochemical detection of cell populations was performed as follows: CD45RO, CD3 and CD43 for T lymphocytes, CD20 for B lymphocytes, CD68 for macrophages, protein S100 for Langerhans-cells, vimentin for fibroblasts, alpha-actin for smooth muscle cells and factor VIII for endothelial cells.
Results: Explanted cryopreserved allografts were all fibrotic, acellular, non-vital and without endothelial cells. The fibrous tissue was preserved. T lymphocytes, indicating rejection, were found in all right-sided allografts from the paediatric population, but only in 9% of left-sided valves explanted from adults and in one of the four of arterial allografts. Macrophages and Langerhans-cells were found only in right-sided allografts from paediatric patients.
Conclusion: Right-sided cryopreserved allografts from a paediatric population showed ongoing cellular rejection. By contrast, there was only a weak T-cell mediated rejection to adult heart valve and arterial allografts. Therefore, similar long-term results can be expected in adult arterial and heart valve allografts, whereas longevity of right-sided heart valve allograft in the paediatric age group seems endangered by cellular rejection.