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Mechanical assessment of elastin integrity in fibrillin-1-deficient carotid arteries: implications for Marfan syndrome

Jacopo Ferruzzi, Melissa J. Collins, Alvin T. Yeh, Jay D. Humphrey
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/cvr/cvr195 287-295 First published online: 5 July 2011


Aims Elastin is the primary component of elastic fibres in arteries, which contribute significantly to the structural integrity of the wall. Fibrillin-1 is a microfibrillar glycoprotein that appears to stabilize elastic fibres mechanically and thereby to delay a fatigue-induced loss of function due to long-term repetitive loading. Whereas prior studies have addressed some aspects of ageing-related changes in the overall mechanical properties of arteries in mouse models of Marfan syndrome, we sought to assess for the first time the load-carrying capability of the elastic fibres early in maturity, prior to the development of ageing-related effects, dilatation, or dissection.

Methods and results We used elastase to degrade elastin in common carotid arteries excised, at 7–9 weeks of age, from a mouse model (mgR/mgR) of Marfan syndrome that expresses fibrillin-1 at 15–25% of normal levels. In vitro biaxial mechanical tests performed before and after exposure to elastase suggested that the elastic fibres exhibited a nearly normal load-bearing capability. Observations from nonlinear optical microscopy suggested further that competent elastic fibres not only contribute to load-bearing, they also increase the undulation of collagen fibres, which endows the normal arterial wall with a more compliant response to pressurization.

Conclusion These findings support the hypothesis that it is an accelerated fatigue-induced damage to or protease-related degradation of initially competent elastic fibres that render arteries in Marfan syndrome increasingly susceptible to dilatation, dissection, and rupture.

  • Elastic fibres
  • Stiffness
  • Stress-strain
  • Mechanics
  • Fatigue
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