Delayed administration of bone marrow cells (BMCs) at 2–4 weeks after successful reperfusion in patients with acute myocardial infarction (MI) does not improve cardiac function. The reduction in engraftment signals observed following this time interval might impair the effects of delayed BMC treatment. In the present study, we aimed to determine whether ultrasound-targeted microbubble destruction (UTMD) treatment could increase engraftment signals, enhance the delivery of delayed BMCs and subsequently attenuate post-infarction cardiac remodelling. A myocardial ischaemia/reperfusion (I/R) model was induced in Wistar rats via left coronary ligation for 45 min followed by reperfusion. Western blotting revealed that engraftment signals peaked at 7 days post-I/R and were dramatically lower at 14 days post-I/R. The lower engraftment signals at 14 days post-I/R could be triggered by UTMD treatment at a mechanical index of 1.0–1.9. The troponin I levels in the 1.9 mechanical index group were higher than in the other groups. Simultaneous haematoxylin and eosin staining and fluorescence revealed that the number of engrafted BMCs in the ischaemic zone was greater in the group treated with both UTMD and delayed BMC transplantation than in the control groups (P<0.05). Both UTMD and delayed BMC transplantation improved cardiac function and decreased cardiac fibrosis at 4 weeks after treatment, as compared with control groups (both P<0.05). Histopathology demonstrated that UTMD combined with delayed BMC transplantation increased capillary density, myocardial cell proliferation and c-kit+ cell proliferation. These findings indicated that UTMD treatment could induce engraftment signals and enhance homing of delayed BMCs to ischaemic myocardium, attenuating post-infarction cardiac remodelling by promoting neovascularization, cardiomyogenesis and expansion of cardiac c-kit+ cells.

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