The most important mechanical property of the artery wall is its non-linear elasticity. Over the last century, this has been well-documented in vessels in many animals, from humans to lobsters. Arteries must be distensible to provide capacitance and pulse-smoothing in the circulation, but they must also be stable to inflation over a range of pressure. These mechanical requirements are met by strain-dependent increases in the elastic modulus of the vascular wall, manifest by a J-shaped stress-strain curve, as typically exhibited by other soft biological tissues. All vertebrates and invertebrates with closed circulatory systems have arteries with this non-linear behaviour, but specific tissue properties vary to give correct function for the physiological pressure range of each species. In all cases, the non-linear elasticity is a product of the parallel arrangement of rubbery and stiff connective tissue elements in the artery wall, and differences in composition and tissue architecture can account for the observed variations in mechanical properties. This phenomenon is most pronounced in large whales, in which very high compliance in the aortic arch and exceptionally low compliance in the descending aorta occur, and is correlated with specific modifications in the arterial structure.
- © 1999 by Company of Biologists