Soft biological tissues such as aortic walls can be viewed as fibrous composites assembled by a ground matrix and embedded families of collagen fibres. Changes in the structural components of aortic walls such as the ground matrix and the embedded families of collagen fibres have been shown to play a significant role in the pathogenesis of aortic degeneration. Hence, there is a need to develop a deeper understanding of the microstructure and the related mechanics of aortic walls. In this study, tissue samples from 17 human abdominal aortas (AA) and from 11 abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAA) are systematically analysed and compared with respect to their structural and mechanical differences. The collagen microstructure is examined by analysing data from second-harmonic generation imaging after optical clearing. Samples from the intact AA wall, their individual layers and the AAA wall are mechanically investigated using biaxial stretching tests. A bivariate von Mises distribution was used to represent the continuous fibre dispersion throughout the entire thickness, and to provide two independent dispersion parameters to be used in a recently proposed material model. Remarkable differences were found between healthy and diseased tissues. The out-of-plane dispersion was significantly higher in AAA when compared with AA tissues, and with the exception of one AAA sample, the characteristic wall structure, as visible in healthy AAs with three distinct layers, could not be identified in AAA samples. The collagen fibres in the abluminal layer of AAAs lost their waviness and exhibited rather straight and thick struts of collagen. A novel set of three structural and three material parameters is provided. With the structural parameters fixed, the material model was fitted to the mechanical experimental data, giving a very satisfying fit although there are only three material parameters involved. The results highlight the need to incorporate the structural differences into finite-element simulations as otherwise simulations of AAA tissues might not be good predictors for the actual in vivo stress state.
- Received August 5, 2016.
- Accepted November 7, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.