The creation of living heart valve replacements via tissue engineering is actively being pursued by many research groups. Numerous strategies have been described, aimed either at culturing autologous living valves in a bioreactor (in vitro) or inducing endogenous regeneration by the host via resorbable scaffolds (in situ). Whereas a lot of effort is being invested in the optimization of heart valve scaffold parameters and culturing conditions, the pathophysiological in vivo remodeling processes to which tissue-engineered heart valves are subjected upon implantation have been largely under-investigated. This is partly due to the unavailability of suitable immunohistochemical tools specific to sheep, which serves as the gold standard animal model in translational research on heart valve replacements. Therefore, the goal of this study was to comprise and validate a comprehensive sheep-specific panel of antibodies for the immunohistochemical analysis of tissue-engineered heart valve explants. For the selection of our panel we took inspiration from previous histopathological studies describing the morphology, extracellular matrix composition and cellular composition of native human heart valves throughout development and adult stages. Moreover, we included a range of immunological markers, which are particularly relevant to assess the host inflammatory response evoked by the implanted heart valve. The markers specifically identifying extracellular matrix components and cell phenotypes were tested on formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded sections of native sheep aortic valves. Markers for inflammation and apoptosis were tested on ovine spleen and kidney tissues. Taken together, this panel of antibodies could serve as a tool to study the spatiotemporal expression of proteins in remodeling tissue-engineered heart valves after implantation in a sheep model, thereby contributing to our understanding of the in vivo processes which ultimately determine long-term success or failure of tissue-engineered heart valves.
Full Access Link: Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine