Age and Blood Pressure Contribute to Aortic Cell and Tissue Stiffness Through Distinct Mechanisms

Ben Ma, Elaina Melton, Robert Wiener, Ning Zhou, Wenqian Wu, Lo Lai, Charles Wang, Kevin D. Costa, Hongyu Qiu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: Aortic stiffening is strongly associated with both aging and hypertension, but the underlying mechanisms remain unclear. We hypothesized that aging-induced aortic stiffness is mediated by a mechanism differing from hypertension. Methods: We conducted comprehensive in vivo and in vitro experiments using multiple rat models to dissect the different mechanisms of aortic stiffening mediated by aging and hypertension. Results: A time-course study in spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR) and Wistar-Kyoto (WKY) normotensive rats showed more pronounced aging-associated aortic stiffening in SHR versus WKY. Angiotensin II-induced hypertension was associated with more significant aortic stiffening in older versus young WKY rats. Hypertension aggravated aging effects on aortic wall thickness and extracellular matrix content, indicating combinational effects of aging and hypertension on aortic stiffening. Intrinsic stiffness of isolated aortic vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) increased with age in WKY rats, although no significant difference between older SHR and older WKY VSMCs was observed in 2-dimensional culture, reconstituted 3-dimensional tissues were stiffer for older SHR versus older WKY. A selective inhibitor that reduced hypertension-mediated aortic stiffening did not decrease age-related stiffening in aortic VSMCs and aortic wall. Integrin β1 and SM22 (smooth muscle-specific SM22 protein) expression were negligibly changed in WKY VSMCs during aging but were markedly increased by hypertension in older versus young WKY VSMCs. A notable shift of filamin isoforms from B to A was detected in older WKY VSMCs. Conclusions: Our results indicate distinct mechanisms mediating aging-associated aortic VSMC and vessel stiffness, providing new insights into aortic stiffening and the pathogenesis of hypertension in the elderly.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1777-1788
Number of pages12
Issue number8
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2022


  • aging
  • atomic force microscopy
  • filamin
  • hypertension
  • rats
  • smooth muscle cell
  • vascular stiffness


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