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Novel experimental model of brain arteriovenous malformations using conditional Alk1 gene deletion in transgenic mice

Chul Han, Michael J. Lang, Candice L. Nguyen, Ernesto Luna Melendez, Shwetal Mehta, Gregory H. Turner, Michael T. Lawton, and S. Paul Oh


Hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia is the only condition associated with multiple inherited brain arteriovenous malformations (AVMs). Therefore, a mouse model was developed with a genetics-based approach that conditionally deleted the causative activin receptor-like kinase 1 (Acvrl1 or Alk1) gene. Radiographic and histopathological findings were correlated, and AVM stability and hemorrhagic behavior over time were examined.


Alk1-floxed mice were crossed with deleter mice to generate offspring in which both copies of the Alk1 gene were deleted by Tagln-Cre to form brain AVMs in the mice. AVMs were characterized using MRI, MRA, and DSA. Brain AVMs were characterized histopathologically with latex dye perfusion, immunofluorescence, and Prussian blue staining.


Brains of 55 Tagln-Cre+;Alk1 f/f mutant mice were categorized into three groups: no detectable vascular lesions (group 1; 23 of 55, 42%), arteriovenous fistulas (AVFs) with no nidus (group 2; 10 of 55, 18%), and nidal AVMs (group 3; 22 of 55, 40%). Microhemorrhage was observed on MRI or MRA in 11 AVMs (50%). AVMs had the angiographic hallmarks of early nidus opacification, a tangle of arteries and dilated draining veins, and rapid shunting of blood flow. Latex dye perfusion confirmed arteriovenous shunting in all AVMs and AVFs. Microhemorrhages were detected adjacent to AVFs and AVMs, visualized by iron deposition, Prussian blue staining, and macrophage infiltration using CD68 immunostaining. Brain AVMs were stable on serial MRI and MRA in group 3 mice (mean age at initial imaging 2.9 months; mean age at last imaging 9.5 months).


Approximately 40% of transgenic mice satisfied the requirements of a stable experimental AVM model by replicating nidal anatomy, arteriovenous hemodynamics, and microhemorrhagic behavior. Transgenic mice with AVFs had a recognizable phenotype of hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia but were less suitable for experimental modeling. AVM pathogenesis can be understood as the combination of conditional Alk1 gene deletion during embryogenesis and angiogenesis that is hyperactive in developing and newborn mice, which translates to a congenital origin in most patients but an acquired condition in patients with a confluence of genetic and angiogenic events later in life. This study offers a novel experimental brain AVM model for future studies of AVM pathophysiology, growth, rupture, and therapeutic regression.