Ultrastructural Pathology of Atherosclerosis, Calcific Aortic Valve Disease, and Bioprosthetic Heart Valve Degeneration: Commonalities and Differences

Atherosclerosis, calcific aortic valve disease (CAVD), and bioprosthetic heart valve degeneration (alternatively termed structural valve deterioration, SVD) represent three diseases affecting distinct components of the circulatory system and their substitutes, yet sharing multiple risk factors and commonly leading to the extraskeletal calcification. Whereas the histopathology of the mentioned disorders is well-described, their ultrastructural pathology is largely obscure due to the lack of appropriate investigation techniques. Employing an original method for sample preparation and the electron microscopy visualisation of calcified cardiovascular tissues, here we revisited the ultrastructural features of lipid retention, macrophage infiltration, intraplaque/intraleaflet haemorrhage, and calcification which are common or unique for the indicated types of cardiovascular disease. Atherosclerotic plaques were notable for the massive accumulation of lipids in the extracellular matrix (ECM), abundant macrophage content, and pronounced neovascularisation associated with blood leakage and calcium deposition. In contrast, CAVD and SVD generally did not require vasculo- or angiogenesis to occur, instead relying on fatigue-induced ECM degradation and the concurrent migration of immune cells. Unlike native tissues, bioprosthetic heart valves contained numerous specialised macrophages and were not capable of the regeneration that underscores ECM integrity as a pivotal factor for SVD prevention. While atherosclerosis, CAVD, and SVD show similar pathogenesis patterns, these disorders demonstrate considerable ultrastructural differences.