We reviewed the structural basis of the mechanical properties of the arterial wall, in order to establish a coherent micro-anatomical basis for the differences in compliance among different arteries and a framework for assessing changes in the mechanical properties of specific individual arteries in relation to changing physical stresses.
The data and concepts presented here were derived from both earlier and ongoing work. Features that assure stability and integrity in relation to blood flow (wall shear stress) and pressure (mural tensile stress) were examined. Particular attention was paid to the morphogenetic and biosynthetic means by which arteries adapt to normal or abnormal modifications of these forces, particularly in relation to growth, location in the arterial tree and geometric configuration.
Results and conclusions
Thickness, composition and architecture of the artery wall, including thickness and composition of the intima, are normally determined by the stresses imposed by pressure and flow. Vessel radius is closely associated with flow, so that a normal baseline level of mean shear stress of about 15dyn/cm2 is maintained or restored. Wall thickness and composition are determined by wall tension in relation to pressure and radius. Baseline levels of tensile stress differ with location but appear to be similar for homologous vessels. Changes in flow that modify the radius also modify wall tension. Changes in wall thickness and composition are likely to cause changes in compliance, due to altered flow and/or pressure patterns; these changes in compliance may be adaptive rather than destructive. Changes in the compliance of specific arteries over time may be used to evaluate the progression and severity of the conditions underlying these changes.
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