Ex vivo liver machine perfusion (MP) is a promising alternative for preservation of liver grafts from extended criteria donors. Small animal models can be used to evaluate different perfusion conditions. We here describe the development of a miniaturized ex vivo MP system for rat liver grafts, evaluating cell-free and erythrocyte-based perfusion solutions, subnormothermic and normothermic temperatures, and dialysis. A perfusion chamber was designed after a suitable liver position was identified. Normothermic ex vivo liver perfusion (NEVLP) required supplementation of erythrocytes to reduce cell damage. Perfusion with erythrocytes led to rising potassium levels after 12 h (NEVLP, 16.2 mM, interquartile range [IQR]: 5.7 and subnormothermic ex vivo liver perfusion [SNEVLP], 12.8 mM, IQR: 3.5), which were normalized by dialysis using a laboratory dialysis membrane (NEVLP, 6.2 mM, IQR: 0.5 and SNEVLP, 5.3 mM, IQR: 0.1; p = 0.004). Livers treated with NEVLP conditions showed higher bile production (18.52 mg/h/g, IQR: 8.2) compared to livers perfused under SNEVLP conditions (0.4 mg/h/g, IQR: 1.2, p = 0.01). Reducing the perfusion volume from 100 to 50 mL allowed for higher erythrocyte concentrations, leading to significantly lower transaminases (15.75 U/L/mL, IQR: 2.29 vs. 5.97 U/L/mL, IQR: 18.07, p = 0.002). In conclusion, a well-designed perfusion system, appropriate oxygen carriers, dialysis, and miniaturization of the perfusion volume are critical features for successful miniaturized ex vivo liver MP. Impact Statement Ex vivo liver machine perfusion (MP) is an emerging preservation alternative to static cold storage. Even though clinical studies have shown benefits for extended criteria donor grafts, standardized systems for perfusion of rat liver grafts are not available, which are inevitable for large-scaled studies on liver reconditioning by ex vivo MP. We here comprehensively describe the development of an ex vivo rat liver perfusion system that can be used as modular setting in various approaches of liver MP. We describe pitfalls and techniques that might be of interest when establishing such perfusion systems for basic and translational research.
Keywords: ex vivo liver machine perfusion; extended criteria donor; liver transplantation; organ reconditioning; organ shortage; small animal model.