Transplant vasculopathy (TV) represents a major obstacle to long-term graft survival and correlates with severity of ischemia reperfusion injury (IRI). Donor administration of the nitric oxide synthases (NOS) co-factor tetrahydrobiopterin has been shown to prevent IRI. Herein, we analysed whether tetrahydrobiopterin is also involved in TV development. Using a fully allogeneic mismatched (BALB/c to C57BL/6) murine aortic transplantation model grafts subjected to long cold ischemia time developed severe TV with intimal hyperplasia (α-smooth muscle actin positive cells in the neointima) and endothelial activation (increased P-selectin expression). Donor pretreatment with tetrahydrobiopterin significantly minimised these changes resulting in only marginal TV development. Severe TV observed in the non-treated group was associated with increased protein oxidation and increased occurrence of endothelial NOS monomers in the aortic grafts already during graft procurement. Tetrahydrobiopterin supplementation of the donor prevented all these early oxidative changes in the graft. Non-treated allogeneic grafts without cold ischemia time and syngeneic grafts did not develop any TV. We identified early protein oxidation and impaired endothelial NOS homodimer formation as plausible mechanistic explanation for the crucial role of IRI in triggering TV in transplanted aortic grafts. Therefore, targeting endothelial NOS in the donor represents a promising strategy to minimise TV.
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