Effect of elastin degradation on carotid wall mechanics as assessed by a constituent-based biomechanical model.
Arteries display a nonlinear anisotropic behavior dictated by the elastic properties and structural arrangement of its main constituents, elastin, collagen, and vascular smooth muscle. Elastin provides for structural integrity and for the compliance of the vessel at low pressure, whereas collagen gives the tensile resistance required at high pressures. Based on the model of Zulliger et al. (Zulliger MA, Rachev A, Stergiopulos N. Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol 287: H1335-H1343, 2004), which considers the contributions of elastin, collagen, and vascular smooth muscle cells (VSM) in an explicit form, we assessed the effects of enzymatic degradation of elastin on biomechanical properties of rabbit carotids. Pressure-diameter curves were obtained for controls and after elastin degradation, from which elastic and structural properties were derived. Data were fitted into the model of Zulliger et al. to assess elastic constants of elastin and collagen as well as the characteristics of the collagen engagement profile. The arterial segments were also prepared for histology to visualize and quantify elastin and collagen. Elastase treatment leads to a diameter enlargement, suggesting the existence of significant compressive prestresses within the wall. The elastic modulus was more ductile in treated arteries at low circumferential stretches and significantly greater at elevated circumferential stretches. Abrupt collagen fiber recruitment in elastase-treated arteries leads to a much stiffer vessel at high extensions. This change in collagen engagement properties results from structural alterations provoked by the degradation of elastin, suggesting a clear interaction between elastin and collagen, often neglected in previous constituent-based models of the arterial wall.