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Cardiovasc Pathol. 2006 Jul-Aug;15(4):203-12.

Ultrastructural pathology of aortic dissections in patients with Marfan syndrome: Comparison with dissections in patients without Marfan syndrome.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, 1105 AZ Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


Despite the discovery in 1990 that mutations in the fibrillin-1 gene cause the Marfan syndrome, the pathogenesis of the life-threatening dissections associated with this disease is far from elucidated. Both the massive number of known fibrillin-1 mutations that result in a heterogeneous patient population and the strongly heterogeneous histology of patients' aortae presumably contribute to this lack of knowledge. We performed a detailed ultrastructural immunoelectron microscopic and histochemical analysis of the dissected media of ascending aortae of 10 patients with Marfan syndrome and compared them with those of 6 patients without Marfan syndrome and 77 individuals without known aortic disease. Relatively similar abnormalities were found in both patient groups, although they were more numerous and more diffusely spread in the patients with Marfan syndrome than in the patients without Marfan syndrome. The most conspicuous ultrastructural defects were the formation of abrupt transverse tears in thick and compact elastic lamellae and the local breaking up of smooth muscle cell-elastic lamella connections (that largely consist of microfibrils and elastic extensions, protruding from the elastic lamellae). This breaking up was characterized by a strongly reduced number of microfibrils and a severe shortening of the elastic extensions. Finally, the elastic extensions detached from the lamellae to ultimately degenerate and disappear. These changes were found mainly in the oldest group of patients with Marfan syndrome, indicating that they represented a loss of previously normally developed structures. We also compared our findings with those from a recently developed murine Marfan model (Pereira L, Lee SY, Gayraud B, Andrilopoulos K, Shapiro SD, Bunton T, Biery NJ, Dietz HC, Sakai LY, Ramirez F. Pathogenetic sequence for aneurysm revealed in mice underexpressing fibrillin-1. Proc Natl Acad Sci. U. S. A. 1999: 96: 3819-3823). Next to similarities, several striking differences existed, demonstrating that this model is not fully representative of the human Marfan syndrome.

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