Viscoelasticity of the vessel wall: The role of collagen and elastic fibers

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The aortic wall contains collagen fibrils, smooth muscle cells, and elastic fibers as the primary load-bearing components. It is well known that the collagen fibrils bear loads in the circumferential direction, whereas elastic fibers provide longitudinal as well as circumferential support. Stiffening of the vessel wall is associated with loss of elastic tissue and increases in the collagen content; however, little is known about the mechanism of vessel wall stiffening with age. The purpose of this review is to attempt to relate structural changes that occur to the collagen and elastic fibers to changes in the viscoelastic behavior that are associated with aging. Analysis of the viscoelastic mechanical properties of collagen fibrils from tendon, skin, and aortic wall suggest that the collagen fibrils of aortic wall are different than those of other tissues. The elastic spring constant of the collagen fibrils in vessel walls is significantly less than that found in tendon, suggesting that the presence of type III collagen in aortic wall increases the flexibility of the collagen fibrils. Furthermore, it is hypothesized that changes in the interface between collagen fibrils, elastic fibers, and smooth muscle during aging and in connective tissue disorders leads to changes in the viscoelasticity of the vessel wall.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)279-301
Number of pages23
JournalCritical reviews in biomedical engineering
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 1 2001

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biomedical Engineering


  • Aorta
  • Collagen fibrils
  • Elastic fibers
  • Mechanical properties

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