Background: Continuous-flow left ventricular assist devices (LVADs) provide durable, reliable, energy-efficient long-term support. However, the biologic effects of continuous flow are not completely known. Therefore, we examined aortic wall morphology in patients with heart failure before and after prolonged circulatory support with a continuous-flow LVAD.
Methods: After applying a partial aortic occlusion vascular clamp in the lower half of the ascending aorta, we removed samples of aortic wall tissue and then attached the outflow graft of the pump. Samples were obtained from 11 patients (9 men and 2 women, mean age 65 ± 7 years) with severe heart failure at the time of LVAD implantation. We obtained matched specimens at explantation after heart transplantation (n = 5) or autopsy (n = 6). These specimens were removed from the distal ascending aorta, remote from the aortic anastomotic site. Tissue sections were stained with hematoxylin and eosin, Movat's pentachrome and Masson's trichrome. Smooth muscle actin immunohistochemistry was performed on all sections. To evaluate the morphology of the aortic wall media, we quantitatively graded tissue sections for medial thickness, medial degenerative changes, smooth muscle cell (SMC) disorientation and depletion, elastic fiber fragmentation and depletion, medial fibrosis and atherosclerotic changes.
Results: The mean duration of support was 140 ± 136 days (range 87 to 580 days). The histologic evaluation and comparison of specimens obtained before and after LVAD support showed significantly increased foci of medial degeneration, SMC depletion, elastic fiber fragmentation, medial fibrosis and atherosclerotic changes after LVAD support. Mean medial thickness was not significantly different after LVAD support. We observed similar changes between samples obtained at transplantation and those obtained at autopsy.
Conclusions: After continuous-flow LVAD support, the morphology of the aortic wall media was altered in all of our patients. The clinical relevance of these findings is unknown.
Keywords: aorta; aortic media; continuous flow; histopathology; left ventricular assist device (LVAD).
© 2013 International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation. All rights reserved.