Radiation-associated aortic valve (AV) stenosis is frequently seen as a late sequela after thoracic radiotherapy (RT). Although the clinical relationship between thoracic radiotherapy and valvular dysfunction has been established, the process leading to accelerated aortic valve stenosis remains unclear. The aim of this study was to determine whether increased inflammatory cell infiltration, fibrosis, and calcification is present in aortic valves after radiotherapy at the time of aortic valve replacement.
Stenotic aortic valve specimens from 43 patients were obtained after surgical aortic valve replacement. A total 28 patients had previously undergone radiotherapy for breast cancer or malignant lymphoma. A total 15 patients were included as control. The valve leaflets were assessed by (immuno)histochemistry for inflammatory cell composition (CD3, CD20, CD68, and CD163) and extracellular matrix changes (collagen and calcification).
Aortic valve cell density after radiotherapy for lymphoma was markedly decreased when compared with other groups. Irradiated aortic valve show similar (low) degrees of late T and B lymphocyte infiltration as control valves, whereas macrophage marker CD68 was decreased after radiotherapy for breast cancer. Collagen content was increased following radiotherapy. Aortic valves of patients with lymphoma contained significantly less calcified tissue when compared with the other groups.
High-dose radiation at a young age (patients with lymphoma) results in cell loss and premature fibrotic aortic valve stenosis as opposed to the degenerative calcific stenosis observed in patients with breast cancer. Our findings suggest a possible dose-dependent effect of radiotherapy on aortic valve fibrosis. The active presence of inflammatory cells may be limited to the acute phase after radiotherapy.
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