Collagen fibrils, a major component of mitral valve leaflets, play an important role in defining shape and providing mechanical strength and flexibility. Histopathological studies show that collagen fibrils undergo dramatic changes in the course of myxomatous mitral valve disease in both dogs and humans. However, little is known about the detailed organization of collagen in this disease. This study was designed to analyze and compare collagen fibril organization in healthy and lesional areas of myxomatous mitral valves of dogs, using synchrotron small-angle x-ray diffraction. The orientation, density, and alignment of collagen fibrils were mapped across six different valves. The findings reveal a preferred collagen alignment in the main body of the leaflets between two commissures. Qualitative and quantitative analysis of the data showed significant differences between affected and lesion-free areas in terms of collagen content, fibril alignment, and total tissue volume. Regression analysis of the amount of collagen compared to the total tissue content at each point revealed a significant relationship between these two parameters in lesion-free but not in affected areas. This is the first time this technique has been used to map collagen fibrils in cardiac tissue; the findings have important applications to human cardiology.
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