The physiologic and histologic properties of the distal internal thoracic artery and its subdivisions

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Abstract

Objective:

We compared the flow rates, reactivity, and morphology of the distal internal thoracic artery and its branches, the superior epigastric and musculophrenic arteries, to test their applicability as possible conduits in coronary artery bypass grafting surgeries.

Methods:

Skeletonized internal thoracic artery and subdivisions of patients undergoing coronary artery bypass grafting were studied intraoperatively (n = 100) for flow and length measurements and in vitro in organ baths (n = 58) for active response to norepinephrine. Quantitative microscopic analysis of the muscle density and degree of intimal hyperplasia was performed. Results were analyzed according to age, gender, risk factors, and medications.

Results:

Internal thoracic artery subdivisions contributed an average extra length of 2 cm. Free flow rates were 129 ± 45 mL/min, 114 ± 41 mL/min, and 93 ± 36 mL/min in the internal thoracic artery, superior epigastric artery, and musculophrenic artery, respectively. Sternum and internal thoracic artery length and free flow rates were significantly lower in women. The subdivisions were significantly more reactive to norepinephrine than the distal internal thoracic artery (P ˜ .005), although sensitivity to norepinephrine was similar. Patients treated with beta-blockers had significantly decreased reactivity (P = .009). Microscopic analysis suggests similar muscle content in the internal thoracic artery and subdivisions. Eccentric (28%) and concentric (62%) intimal hyperplasia were observed in 90% of specimens, with no evidence for atherosclerotic plaques. There was no significant difference in the degree of intimal hyperplasia between the distal internal thoracic artery and its subdivisions, and there was no correlation to risk factors.

Conclusions:

Our results confirm the previous studies on the higher contractility in internal thoracic artery subdivisions, suggesting caution in the use of the bifurcation for revascularization. However, the extra length, sufficient flow, and favorable histologic properties suggest that the bifurcation may be appropriate for coronary revascularization in selected cases.

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