Human mitral valves (32 floppy and 17 rheumatic) obtained at surgery were analysed and compared with 35 normal (autopsy) valves. Total amounts of collagen, proteoglycan and elastin were increased approx. 3-fold in floppy and rheumatic valves. The water content of rheumatic cusps was lower than normal. The most significant changes in floppy valves were the 59% increase in mean value of the proteoglycan content, a large increase in the ease of extractability of proteoglycans from 26.7 to 57.2% of the total and a 62% increase in mean value of the elastin content in the anterior cusps. Normal human mitral valve cusps contained a mean proportion of 29.3 (and chordae 26.6) type III collagen (as % of total types III + I collagen), the values increasing significantly to 33.2 and 36.3% respectively in chronic rheumatic disease. The ratio observed in floppy valves depended on the extent of secondary surface fibrosis, which could be demonstrated histologically; in valve cusps with considerable secondary fibrosis, the percentage of type III increased significantly (to 34.4%), whereas it decreased significantly (to 25.2%) when fibrosis was negligible. It is concluded that the ratio of collagen types in floppy valves reflects the extent of secondary fibrosis rather than the pathogenesis of the disrupted collagen in the central core of the valve.

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