Structural analysis of adventitial collagen to feature aging and aneurysm formation in human aorta

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Adventitial collagen structure provides the aorta with tensile strength. Like other collagen-rich tissues, it can be affected by internal factors including aging and location. We determined whether the structural characteristics of human aortic adventitial collagen change with aging, location, and aneurysm formation.


Nonatherosclerotic nonaneurysmal (NANA) human abdominal aortas were collected from 15 individuals who had died of noncardiovascular diseases (<40 years old, NANA young, n = 5; >60 years old, NANA old, n = 5). The architecture of adventitial collagen in the aortas was assessed by scanning electron microscopy, and fiber orientation was assessed by polarized microscopy with two-dimensional fast Fourier transform. We then analyzed retardation as an anisotropic property of adventitial collagen by polarized light microscopy. The orientation and retardation of NANA aortas were compared with those of abdominal aortic specimens from patients who were surgically treated for abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) (>60 years old, n = 11).


Adventitial collagen of the abdominal aortas on scanning electron microscopy images appeared as wavy, ropy fibers in aortas from young individuals (NANA young, n = 5) and were essentially flattened in those from older patents (NANA old, n = 5) and from those with AAA. Collagen fibers were thicker but sparser in the adventitia of aortas with AAA. Orientation maintained in the collagen fibers of NANA aortas (n = 15) on two-dimensional fast Fourier transform analysis was unrelated to either location or age and did not differ between NANA aortas and those with AAA. However, collagen fibrils in NANA aortas (n = 15) were significantly less retarded only at the level of the inferior mesenteric artery compared with other aortic locations. In addition, retardation was significantly reduced in abdominal aortas with AAA at the level of the inferior mesenteric artery.


The basic structure of adventitial collagen fiber was maintained in abdominal aortas regardless of location or age. Because the molecular structure at the subfibril level changed at abdominal aorta and enhanced in aortas with AAA, alterations in the molecular structure of adventitial collagen might be associated with aneurysmal formation.

Clinical Relevance:

Providing tensile strength to the aorta, adventitial collagen structure is thought to relate with pathogenesis of aging and abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA). However, those structural changes of collagen have been presented without quantitative analysis or assessment of mechanical properties. Analyzing quantitatively collagen structure at abdominal aortas using recently established methods, this report showed comprehensive adventitial collagen structure in human aortas and those with AAA for the first time. We indicated that collagen structures were maintained in aging and AAA and showed the microstructural collagen change in AAA, which is consistent with previous results such as alteration of cross-linkage in AAA.

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