Clinical and In Vitro Evidence That Left Ventricular Assist Device–Induced von Willebrand Factor Degradation Alters Angiogenesis

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Gastrointestinal bleeding from angiodysplasia is a major problem in continuous-flow left ventricular assist device (LVAD) patients. LVAD shear stress causes pathologic degradation of VWF (von Willebrand factor). A mechanistic relationship between VWF degradation and angiodysplasia has not been explored. We tested 2 novel hypotheses: (1) clinical hypothesis: VWF fragments are elevated in LVAD patients that develop angiodysplasia and (2) in vitro hypothesis: VWF fragments generated during LVAD support alter angiogenesis, which may contribute to angiodysplasia.

Methods and Results

Clinical study: Paired blood samples were collected from continuous-flow LVAD patients (n=35). VWF was quantified with immunoblotting. In vitro experiments: (1) To investigate whether LVAD support alters angiogenesis, human endothelial cells were cultured with LVAD patient plasma (n=11). To investigate mechanism, endothelial cells were cultured with VWF fragments produced by exposing human VWF and ADAMTS-13 (VWF protease) to LVAD-like shear stress (175 dyne/cm2, n=8). Clinical study results: in all patients (n=35, mean support 666±430 days), LVAD support degraded high-molecular-weight VWF multimers (P<0.0001) into low-molecular-weight VWF multimers (P<0.0001) and VWF fragments (P<0.0001). In patients with gastrointestinal bleeding from angiodysplasia (n=7), VWF fragments were elevated (P=0.02) versus nonbleeders. In contrast, in patients with gastrointestinal bleeding without angiodysplasia, VWF fragments were not elevated versus nonbleeders (P=0.96). In vitro experiments results: LVAD patient plasma caused abnormal angiogenesis with reduced tubule length (P=0.04) and migration (P=0.05). Similarly, endothelial cells grown with VWF degradation fragments exhibited reduced tubule length (P<0.001) and migration (P=0.01).


LVAD patients who bled from angiodysplasia had higher levels of VWF fragments than nonbleeders and gastrointestinal bleeders without angiodysplasia. VWF fragments caused abnormal angiogenesis in vitro. These findings suggest that VWF fragments may be a mechanistic link between LVAD support, abnormal angiogenesis, angiodysplasia, and gastrointestinal bleeding.

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