Role of smooth muscle activation in the static and dynamic mechanical characterization of human aortas

Giulio Franchini, Ivan D. Breslavsky, Francesco Giovanniello, Ali Kassab, Gerhard A. Holzapfel, Marco Amabili*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Experimental data and a suitable material model for human aortas with smooth muscle activation are not available in the literature despite the need for developing advanced grafts; the present study closes this gap. Mechanical characterization of human descending thoracic aortas was performed with and without vascular smooth muscle (VSM) activation. Specimens were taken from 13 heart-beating donors. The aortic segments were cooled in Belzer UW solution during transport and tested within a few hours after explantation. VSM activation was achieved through the use of potassium depolarization and noradrenaline as vasoactive agents. In addition to isometric activation experiments, the quasistatic passive and active stress-strain curves were obtained for circumferential and longitudinal strips of the aortic material. This characterization made it possible to create an original mechanical model of the active aortic material that accurately fits the experimental data. The dynamic mechanical characterization was executed using cyclic strain at different frequencies of physiological interest. An initial prestretch, which corresponded to the physiological conditions, was applied before cyclic loading. Dynamic tests made it possible to identify the differences in the viscoelastic behavior of the passive and active tissue. This work illustrates the importance of VSM activation for the static and dynamic mechanical response of human aortas. Most importantly, this study provides material data and a material model for the development of a future generation of active aortic grafts that mimic natural behavior and help regulate blood pressure.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2117232119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jan 2022


  • Human aorta
  • Mechanical characterization
  • Mechanical material model
  • Microstructural characterization
  • Vascular smooth muscle activation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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