Most tissue-engineered arterial grafts are complicated by aneurysmal dilation secondary to insufficient neotissue formation after scaffold degradation. The optimal graft would form an organized multilayered structure with a robust extracellular matrix that could withstand arterial pressure. The purpose of the current study was to determine how oversizing a biodegradable arterial scaffold affects long-term neotissue formation. Size-matched (1.0 mm, n = 11) and oversized (1.6 mm, n = 9) electrospun polycaprolactone/chitosan scaffolds were implanted as abdominal aortic interposition grafts in Lewis rats. The mean lumen diameter of the 1.6 mm grafts was initially greater compared with the native vessel, but matched the native aorta by 6 months. In contrast, the 1.0 mm grafts experienced stenosis at 6 and 9 months. Total neotissue area and calponin-positive neotissue area were significantly greater in the 1.6 mm grafts by 6 months and similar to the native aorta. Late-term biomechanical testing was dominated by remaining polymer, but graft oversizing did not adversely affect the biomechanics of the adjacent vessel. Oversizing tissue-engineered arterial grafts may represent a strategy to increase the formation of organized neotissue without thrombosis or adverse remodeling of the adjacent native vessel by harnessing a previously undescribed process of adaptive vascular remodeling.
Keywords: chitosan; electrospinning; polycaprolactone; rat model; size mismatch; tissue-engineered arterial graft.