Polypropylene meshes, originally introduced for hernia repair, are presently utilized in several anatomical sites. Several million are implanted annually worldwide. Depending on the device, up to 10% will be excised to treat complications. The excised meshes can provide material to study the complications, however, they have remained underutilized over the last decades and the mechanisms of complications continue to be incompletely understood. The fundamental question as to whether polypropylene degrades in vivo is still debated. We have examined 164 excised meshes using conventional microscopy to search for features of polypropylene degradation. Four specimens were also examined by transmission electron microscopy. The degraded material, detected by its ability to absorb dyes in the degradation nanopores, formed a continuous layer at the surface of the mesh fibers. It retained birefringence, inclusions of non-degraded polypropylene, and showed ability to meld with the non-degraded fiber core when heated by the surgical cautery. Several features indicated that the degradation layer formed in vivo: inflammatory cells trapped within fissures, melting caused by cautery of excision surgery, and gradual but progressive growth of the degradation layer while in the body. Cracking of the degraded material indicated a contribution to clinically important mesh stiffening and deformation. Chemical products of degradation need to be analyzed and studied for their role in the mesh-body interactions. The described methods can also be used to study degradation of other materials. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Biomed Mater Res Part B: Appl Biomater, 105B: 237-248, 2017.
© 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.