Purpose: Late graft failure is a critical problem, particularly in the presence of poor runoff vessels. Intimal hyperplasia is considered to be the main cause of graft failure. We have already reported that intimal thickening of experimental vein grafts in dogs with poor runoff vessels is more pronounced than that in dogs with normal vessels. We and others also have reported that production of nitric oxide (NO) in the endothelium of canine vein grafts is impaired. In the present study, we asked whether in vivo gene transfer of endothelial cell NO synthase (ecNOS) would inhibit intimal hyperplasia of autogenous vein grafts implanted in limbs with poor distal runoff in dogs. Methods: After exposing femoral veins, the nuclear-targeted lac Zgene, bovine ecNOS cDNA, or control vector plasmid encapsulated in the hemagglutinating virus of Japan-liposomes was infused intraluminally, followed by incubation for 10 minutes at room temperature under a distending pressure of 100 mm Hg. Twenty reversed vein grafts were implanted under normal runoff conditions, and 4 days later these were used to confirm gene transfer to the vein grafts. Twelve reversed vein grafts were implanted under conditions of poor runoff, and 4 weeks after the operation intimal thickening was evident. Results: In vein grafts under normal runoff conditions, lac Z gene transfer exhibited diffuse and frequent X-Gal-positive signals in both medial and adventitial layers 4 days after implantation (n = 3). In case of the ecNOS gene-transferred vein grafts, bovine ecNOS protein was mainly detected in medial smooth muscle cells and adventitial cells 4 days after implantation, determined using immunohistochemical techniques and bovine ecNOS specific antibody (n = 3). In addition, ecNOS-transferred vessels showed intense purple signals by reduced nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate diaphorase and nitroblue tetrazolium reaction, in both medial and adventitial layers, whereas weak NOS activity was recognized at the adventitial vasa vasorum of the untreated veins or control vector transferred veins (n = 3, respectively). In vein grafts under poor runoff conditions, the intimal thickness at 4 weeks after implantation was significantly reduced by ecNOS gene transfer (n = 4; 90.0 ± 7.6 μm and 1.18 ± 0.07 mm2) in comparison with buffer-treated vessels (n = 4; 195.8 ± 25.7 μm and 2.62 ± 0.48 mm2) or vector vehicle-treated vessels (n = 4; 193.0 ± 15.8 μm and 2.65 ± 0.22 mm2). Conclusions: Our findings show that gene transfer of ecNOS inhibited intimal hyperplasia of canine vein grafts caused by poor runoff conditions, as a result of an increased local production of NO. Thus ecNOS gene transfer warrants further study as a possible approach to prevent late graft failure.
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