We have previously described a means to maintain bone allotransplant viability, without long-term immune modulation, replacing allogenic bone vasculature with autogenous vessels. A rabbit model for whole knee joint transplantation was developed and tested using the same methodology, initially as an autotransplant.
Eight New Zealand White rabbit knee joints were elevated on a popliteal vessel pedicle to evaluate limb viability in a non-survival study. Ten additional joints were elevated and replaced orthotopically in a fashion identical to allotransplantation, obviating only microsurgical repairs and immunosuppression. A superficial inferior epigastric facial (SIEF) flap and a saphenous arteriovenous (AV) bundle were introduced into the femur and tibia respectively, generating a neoangiogenic bone circulation. In allogenic transplantation, this step maintains viability after cessation of immunosuppression. Sixteen weeks later, x-rays, microangiography, histology, histomorphometry and biomechanical analysis were performed.
Limb viability was preserved in the initial 8 animals. Both soft tissue and bone healing occurred in 10 orthotopic transplants. Surgical angiogenesis from the SIEF flap and AV bundle was always present. Bone and joint viability was maintained, with demonstrable new bone formation. Bone strength was less than the opposite side. Arthrosis and joint contractures were frequent.
We have developed a rabbit knee joint model and evaluation methods suitable for subsequent studies of whole joint allotransplantation.