Microstructural and biomechanical alterations of the human aorta as a function of age and location

Darren Haskett, Gregory Johnson, Aifang Zhou, Urs Utzinger, Jonathan Vande Geest

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

154 Scopus citations


While it is known that the aorta stiffens with location and age, little is known about the underlying mechanisms that govern these alterations. The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between the anisotropic biomechanical behavior and extracellular matrix microstructure of the human aorta and quantify how each changes with location and age. A total of 207 specimens were harvested from 5 locations (ascending n = 33, arch n = 38, descending n = 54, suprarenal n = 52, and abdominal n = 30) of 31 autopsy donor aortas (aged 3 days to 93 years). Each specimen underwent planar biaxial testing in order to derive quantitative biomechanical endpoints of anisotropic stiffness and compliance. Quantitative measures of fiber alignment and degree of fiber alignment were also generated on the same samples using a small-angle light scattering (SALS) technique. Circumferential and axial stiffening occurred with age and increased from the proximal to distal aorta, and the abdominal region was found to be more stiff than all others (p ≤ 0.006). Specimens from donors aged 61 and above were drastically more stiff than younger specimens (p < 0.001) and demonstrated greater circumferential compliance and axial stiffening (p < 0.001). Fiber direction for all ages and locations was predominantly circumferential (p < 0.001), and the degree of fiber alignment was found to increase with age (p < 0.001). Our results demonstrate that the aorta becomes more biomechanically and structurally anisotropic after age 60; with significant changes occurring preferentially in the abdominal aorta, these changes may play an important role in the predisposition of disease formation (e.g., aneurysm) in this region with age.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)725-736
Number of pages12
JournalBiomechanics and Modeling in Mechanobiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2010


  • Age
  • Aorta
  • Biaxial
  • Extracellular matrix
  • Location
  • SALS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Mechanical Engineering


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