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In cases of aortic stenosis, bioprosthetic heart valves (BHVs), with glutaraldehyde-fixed bovine pericardium leaflets (GLBP), are often implanted to replace the native diseased valve. Widespread use of BHVs, however, is restricted due to inadequate long-term durability, owing specifically to premature leaflet failure. Mechanical fatigue damage and calcification remain the primary leaflet failure modes, where glutaraldehyde treatment is known to accelerate calcification. The literature in this area is limited, with some studies suggesting mechanical damage increases calcification and others that they are independent degenerative mechanisms. In this study, specimens which were non-destructively pre-sorted according to collagen fibre architecture and uniaxially cyclically loaded until failure or 1 million cycles, were placed in an in vitro calcification solution. The weakest specimen group (those with fibres aligned perpendicular to the load) had statistically significantly higher volumes of calcification when compared to those with a high fatigue life. Moreover, SEM imaging revealed that ruptured and damaged fibres presented calcium binding sites; resulting in 4 times more calcification in fractured samples in comparison to those which did not fail by fatigue. To the authors' knowledge, this study quantifies for the first time, that mechanical damage drives calcification in commercial-grade GLBP and that calcification varies spatially according to localised damage levels. These findings illustrate that not only is calcification of GLBP exacerbated by fatigue damage, but that both failure phenomena are underpinned by the collagen fibre organisation. Consequently, controlling for GLBP collagen fibre architecture in leaflets could minimise the progression of these primary failure modes in patient BHVs. STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE: Mechanical damage and calcification are the primary premature failure modes of glutaraldehyde-fixed bovine pericardial (GLBP) leaflets in bioprosthetic heart valves. In this study, commercial-grade GLBP specimens which were uniaxially cyclically loaded to failure or 1 million cycles, were placed in an in vitro calcification solution. MicroCT and SEM analysis showed that localised calcification levels varied spatially according to damage, where ruptured fibres offered additional calcium binding sites. Furthermore, specimens with a statistically significant lower fatigue life were associated with statistically significant higher calcification. This study revealed that mechanical damage drives calcification of GLBP. Non-destructive pre-screening of collagen fibres demonstrated that both the fatigue life and calcification potential of commercial-grade GLBP, are underpinned by the collagen fibre architecture. Copyright © 2021. Published by Elsevier Ltd.


Alix Whelan, Elizabeth Williams, Emma Fitzpatrick, Bruce P Murphy, Paul S Gunning, David O'Reilly, Caitríona Lally. Collagen fibre-mediated mechanical damage increases calcification of bovine pericardium for use in bioprosthetic heart valves. Acta biomaterialia. 2021 Jul 01;128:384-392

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PMID: 33945880

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