Heterotopic heart transplantation in rats has been a commonly used model for diverse immunological studies for more than 50 years. Several modifications have been reported since the first description in 1964. After 30 years of performing heterotopic heart transplantation in rats, we have developed a simplified surgical approach, which can be easily taught and performed without further surgical training or background.
After dissection of the ascending aorta and the pulmonary artery and ligation of superior and inferior caval and pulmonary veins, the donor heart is harvested and subsequently perfused with ice-cold saline solution supplemented with heparin. After clamping and incising the recipient abdominal vessels, the donor ascending aorta and pulmonary artery are anastomosed to the recipient abdominal aorta and inferior vena cava, respectively, using continuous running sutures.
Depending on different donor-recipient combinations, this model allows analyses of either acute or chronic rejection of allografts. The immunological significance of this model is further enhanced by a novel approach of in-ear injection of vital cardiac muscle cells and subsequent analysis of draining cervical lymphatic tissue.