Journal article

Role of elastin anisotropy in structural strain energy functions of arterial tissue.

The vascular wall exhibits nonlinear anisotropic mechanical properties. The identification of a strain energy function (SEF) is the preferred method to describe its complex nonlinear elastic properties. Earlier constituent-based SEF models, where elastin is modeled as an isotropic material, failed in describing accurately the tissue response to inflation-extension loading. We hypothesized that these shortcomings are partly due to unaccounted anisotropic properties of elastin. We performed inflation-extension tests on common carotid of rabbits before and after enzymatic degradation of elastin and applied constituent-based SEFs, with both an isotropic and an anisotropic elastin part, on the experimental data. We used transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and serial block-face scanning electron microscopy (SBFSEM) to provide direct structural evidence of the assumed anisotropy. In intact arteries, the SEF including anisotropic elastin with one family of fibers in the circumferential direction fitted better the inflation-extension data than the isotropic SEF. This was supported by TEM and SBFSEM imaging, which showed interlamellar elastin fibers in the circumferential direction. In elastin-degraded arteries, both SEFs succeeded equally well in predicting anisotropic wall behavior. In elastase-treated arteries fitted with the anisotropic SEF for elastin, collagen engaged later than in intact arteries. We conclude that constituent-based models with an anisotropic elastin part characterize more accurately the mechanical properties of the arterial wall when compared to models with simply an isotropic elastin. Microstructural imaging based on electron microscopy techniques provided evidence for elastin anisotropy. Finally, the model suggests a later and less abrupt collagen engagement after elastase treatment.


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