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Objective-: Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) signaling plays a key role in the pathogenesis of vascular remodeling, including graft arteriosclerosis. Graft arteriosclerosis is the major cause of late organ failure in cardiac transplantation. We used molecular near-infrared fluorescent imaging with an engineered Cy5.5-labeled single-chain VEGF tracer (scVEGF/Cy) to detect VEGF receptors and vascular remodeling in human coronary artery grafts by molecular imaging.

Methods and Results-: VEGF receptor specificity of probe uptake was shown by flow cytometry in endothelial cells. In severe combined immunodeficiency mice, transplantation of human coronary artery segments into the aorta followed by adoptive transfer of allogeneic human peripheral blood mononuclear cells led to significant neointima formation in the grafts over a period of 4 weeks. Near-infrared fluorescent imaging of transplant recipients at 4 weeks demonstrated focal uptake of scVEGF/Cy in remodeling artery grafts. Uptake specificity was demonstrated using an inactive homolog of scVEGF/Cy. scVEGF/Cy uptake predominantly localized in the neointima of remodeling coronary arteries and correlated with VEGF receptor-1 but not VEGF receptor-2 expression. There was a significant correlation between scVEGF/Cy uptake and transplanted artery neointima area.

Conclusion-: Molecular imaging of VEGF receptors may provide a noninvasive tool for detection of graft arteriosclerosis in solid organ transplantation.

(C) 2012 American Heart Association, Inc.