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J Nucl Cardiol. 2000 Mar-Apr;7(2):132-9.

Burden of myocardial damage in cardiac allograft rejection: scintigraphic evidence of myocardial injury and histologic evidence of myocyte necrosis and apoptosis.

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Cardiomyopathy and Heart Transplantation Program, Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau, Barcelona, Spain.



Because myocardial damage determines morbidity and outcomes in heart transplant rejection, assessment of total burden of myocardial damage is highly desirable. In addition to myocyte necrosis, programmed cell death, or apoptosis, has recently been shown to contribute to cardiac allograft rejection. In the present study, we noninvasively determined myocardial damage by antimyosin scintigraphy and compared it with necrotic and apoptotic myocardial damage in endomyocardial biopsy (EMB) specimens.


Forty scintigraphic and histologic studies were simultaneously performed. Of these, 19 patients had no EMB evidence of allograft rejection (group I, International Society of Heart and Lung Transplantation [ISHLT] grade 0/4), 12 had mild rejection (group II, ISHLT grades 1A and 1B), and 9 had evidence of moderate allograft rejection (group III, ISHLT grades 2, 3A, and 3B). None of the biopsies demonstrated severe allograft rejection (ISHLT grade 4/4). The severity of global myocyte damage in 40 patients was assessed by antimyosin scintigraphy. Endomyocardial biopsies were performed in these patients within 48 hours of imaging study; biopsy specimens were characterized for presence of myocyte necrosis and apoptosis. Evidence of myocyte necrosis was observed in 9 (23%) of 40 EMB specimens. Nineteen EMB specimens of group I had no inflammation and no myocyte necrosis, 12 of group II specimens showed interstitial mononuclear cell infiltration (only) but no myocyte necrosis, and all 9 of group III specimens had evidence of cellular infiltration and myocyte damage. Myocyte necrosis was assessed by hematoxylin-eosin and trichrome staining of EMB specimens. On the other hand, apoptosis of myocytes, as assessed by TUNEL staining of DNA fragments, was seen in 22 (55%) of the 40 biopsy specimens: 47%, 58%, and 67% in groups I, II and III, respectively. Abnormal antimyosin scan findings, indicating presence of myocardial damage, were observed in 9 of the 19 patients in group I and in all patients in groups II and III. Although positive antimyosin scan results in group III patients are concordant with the presence of histologic myocardial necrosis, myocardial uptake of antimyosin antibodies in groups I and II (no apparent myocyte damage at light microscopic examination) could reflect either sampling error of the biopsy or ongoing apoptotic myocyte damage.


Apoptosis of myocytes is frequently observed during cardiac allograft rejection. The presence of apoptotic myocytes in the absence of histologic rejection activity in patients with antimyosin uptake suggests that apoptosis could be an additional mechanism of transplant-associated myocardial damage.

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