Ectopic mineralization in heart valves: new insights from in vivo and in vitro procalcific models and promising perspectives on noncalcifiable bioengineered valves

Antonella Bonetti, Maurizio Marchini, Fulvia Ortolani


Ectopic calcification of native and bioprosthetic heart valves represents a major public health problem causing severe morbidity and mortality worldwide. Valve procalcific degeneration is known to be caused mainly by calcium salt precipitation onto membranes of suffering non-scavenged cells and dead-cell-derived products acting as major hydroxyapatite nucleators. Although etiopathogenesis of calcification in native valves is still far from being exhaustively elucidated, it is well known that bioprosthesis mineralization may be primed by glutaraldehyde-mediated toxicity for xenografts, cryopreservation-related damage for allografts and graft immune rejection for both. Instead, mechanical valves, which are free from calcification, are extremely thrombogenic, requiring chronic anticoagulation therapies for transplanted patients. Since surgical substitution of failed valves is still the leading therapeutic option, progressive improvements in tissue engineering techniques are crucial to attain readily available valve implants with good biocompatibility, proper functionality and long-term durability in order to meet the considerable clinical demand for valve substitutes. Bioengineered valves obtained from acellular non-valvular scaffolds or decellularized native valves are proving to be a compelling alternative to mechanical and bioprosthetic valve implants, as they appear to permit repopulation by the host’s own cells with associated tissue remodelling, growth and repair, besides showing less propensity to calcification and adequate hemodynamic performances. In this review, insights into valve calcification onset as revealed by in vivo and in vitro procalcific models are updated as well as advances in the field of valve bioengineering.