Degradation and Healing Characteristics of Small-Diameter Poly(ε-Caprolactone) Vascular Grafts in the Rat Systemic Arterial Circulation

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Background—Long-term patency of conventional synthetic grafts is unsatisfactory below a 6-mm internal diameter. Poly(ε-caprolactone) (PCL) is a promising biodegradable polymer with a longer degradation time. We aimed to evaluate in vivo healing and degradation characteristics of small-diameter vascular grafts made of PCL nanofibers compared with expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE) grafts.Methods and Results—We prepared 2-mm–internal diameter grafts by electrospinning using PCL (Mn=80 000 g/mol). Either PCL (n=15) or ePTFE (n=15) grafts were implanted into 30 rats. Rats were followed up for 24 weeks. At the conclusion of the follow-up period, patency and structural integrity were evaluated by digital subtraction angiography. The abdominal aorta, including the graft, was harvested and investigated under light microscopy. Endothelial coverage, neointima formation, and transmural cellular ingrowth were measured by computed histomorphometry. All animals survived until the end of follow-up, and all grafts were patent in both groups. Digital subtraction angiography revealed no stenosis in the PCL group but stenotic lesions in 1 graft at 18 weeks (40%) and in another graft at 24 weeks (50%) in the ePTFE group. None of the grafts showed aneurysmal dilatation. Endothelial coverage was significantly better in the PCL group. Neointimal formation was comparable between the 2 groups. Macrophage and fibroblast ingrowth with extracellular matrix formation and neoangiogenesis were better in the PCL group. After 12 weeks, foci of chondroid metaplasia located in the neointima of PCL grafts were observed in all samples.Conclusions—Small-diameter PCL grafts represent a promising alternative for the future because of their better healing characteristics compared with ePTFE grafts. Faster endothelialization and extracellular matrix formation, accompanied by degradation of graft fibers, seem to be the major advantages. Further evaluation of degradation and graft healing characteristics may potentially lead to the clinical use of such grafts for revascularization procedures.

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