Residual stress is observed in many parts of the cardiovascular system and is thought to reduce transmural stress gradients due to intravascular pressure. Its development is closely associated with normal growth and pathological remodeling, although there appear to be few previous reports of the relationship between aging and residual stress. We have estimated residual strain (an indicator of the magnitude of residual stress) at ten sites along the aorta of rats aged 2.5 to 56 weeks by measuring the degree to which rings of vessel spring open when cut (opening angle). At all ages the opening angle decreased along the aorta, reaching a minimum near the renal arteries and increasing toward the aorto-iliac bifurcation, a result that confirms previous studies. During growth, although the unloaded circumference of the aorta increased steadily, the wall thickness and medial surface area fell to a minimum at the age of 6 weeks before continuing a steady increase. Similarly, the opening angle decreased between the ages of 2.5 and 6 weeks, thereafter increasing with age. In the abdominal aorta, a strong correlation between opening angle and wall thickness relative to midwall radius (h/R) was seen; whereas in the thoracic segment, in which no increase in h/R with age occurred, no such relationship was found. These observations are in keeping with a recently proposed hypothesis that residual stress will change in response to growth-related changes in vessel geometry driven by a tendency to minimize the nonuniform stress distribution inevitably found in pressurized thick-walled cylinders.

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