Heterogeneous transmural proteoglycan distribution provides a mechanism for regulating residual stresses in the aorta

Evren U. Azeloglu, Michael B. Albro, Vikrum A. Thimmappa, Gerard A. Ateshian, Kevin D. Costa

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The arterial wall contains a significant amount of charged proteoglycans, which are inhomogeneously distributed, with the greatest concentrations in the intimal and medial layers. The hypothesis of this study is that the transmural distribution of proteoglycans plays a significant role in regulating residual stresses in the arterial wall. This hypothesis was first tested theoretically, using the framework of mixture theory for charged hydrated tissues, and then verified experimentally by measuring the opening angle of rat aorta in NaCl solutions of various ionic strengths. A three-dimensional finite element model of aortic ring, using realistic values of the solid matrix shear modulus and proteoglycan fixed-charge density, yielded opening angles and changes with osmolarity comparable to values reported in the literature. Experimentally, the mean opening angle in isotonic saline (300 mosM) was 15 ± 17° and changed to 4 ± 19° and 73 ± 18° under hypertonic (2,000 mosM) and hypotonic (0 mosM) conditions, respectively (n = 16). In addition, the opening angle in isotonic (300 mosM) sucrose, an uncharged molecule, was 60 ± 16° (n = 11), suggesting that the charge effect, not cellular swelling, was the major underlying mechanism for these observations. The extent of changes in opening angle under osmotic challenges suggests that transmural heterogeneity of fixed-charge density plays a crucial role in governing the zero-stress configuration of the aorta. A significant implication of this finding is that arterial wall remodeling in response to altered wall stresses may occur via altered deposition of proteoglycans across the wall thickness, providing a novel mechanism for regulating mechanical homeostasis in vascular tissue.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)H1197-H1205
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Glycosaminoglycans
  • Vascular mechanics
  • Zero stress


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