Structural strain energy function applied to the ageing of the human aorta.
Stiffening of the aorta with progressing age leads to decrease of aortic compliance and thus to an increase of pulse pressure amplitude. Using a strain energy function (SEF) which takes into account the composition of the arterial wall, we have studied the evolution of key structural components of the human thoracic aorta using data obtained from the literature. The SEF takes into account the wavy nature of collagen, which upon gradual inflation of the blood vessel is assumed to straighten out and become engaged in bearing load. The engagement of the individual fibers is assumed to be distributed log-logistically. The use of a SEF enables the consideration of axial stretch (lambda(z)) and residual strain (opening angle) in the biomechanical analysis. Both lambda(z) and opening angle are known to change with age. Results obtained from applying the SEF to the measurements of aortic pressure-diameter curves indicate that the changes in aortic biomechanics with progressing age are not to be sought in the elastic constants of elastin and collagen or their volume fractions of the aortic wall but moreover in alterations of the collagen mesh arrangement and the waviness of the collagen fibers. In old subjects, the collagen fiber ensemble engages in load bearing much more abruptly than in young subjects. Reasons for this change in collagen fiber dynamics may include fiber waviness remodeling or cross-linkage by advanced glycation end-products (AGE). The abruptness of collagen fiber engagement is also the model parameter that is most responsible for the decreased compliance at progressed ages.