The concept of tissue engineered small-caliber vascular grafts (TE-SCVGs) is theoretically ideal. In this study, we evaluated the long-term (more than 1 year) course of TE-SCVGs using a rat carotid arterial replacement model. We fabricated a TE-SCVG scaffold (0.7 mm in diameter) with electrospun nano-scale fibers. Poly-ε-caprolactone was used as a biodegradable polymer. These artificial vessels were then used in carotid arterial replacement performed on Sprague-Dawley rats. The implanted grafts were removed at an early phase (1, 2, 6 weeks), middle phase (12, 24 weeks), and late phase (48, 72 weeks) after implantation. Twenty-nine patent grafts from among the 40 implanted grafts (patency 72.5 %) could be evaluated. No aneurysm formation was observed during the follow-up period. Endothelial cells positive for immunostaining with von Willebrand factor were found to be already attached to the inner surface of the TE-SCVGs in the early phase. The percentage of smooth muscle cell specific marker (α-smooth muscle actin and calponin with fluorescent immunostaining) positive cells, which seemed to be mesenchymal cells in the graft wall, increased with time, while, in contrast, the scaffold material decreased. Even after 72 weeks, however, although the scaffold material had degraded, it had not disappeared completely. These results show that the novel TE-SCVGs we developed were still functioning in the rat carotid arterial circulation after more than 1 year. However, further investigations will be required with regard to regeneration of the SMC layer and the complete degradation of graft materials.
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