Arteries are composed of multiple constituents that endow the wall with proper structure and function. Many vascular diseases are associated with prominent mechanical and biological alterations in the wall constituents. In this study, planar biaxial tensile test data of elastase-treated porcine aortic tissue (Chow et al. in Biomech Model Mechanobiol 2013) is re-examined to characterize the altered mechanical behavior at multiple stages of digestion through constitutive modeling. Exponential-based as well as recruitment-based strain energy functions are employed and the associated constitutive parameters for individual digestion stages are identified using nonlinear parameter estimation. It is shown that when the major portion of elastin is degraded from a cut-open artery in the load-free state, the embedded collagen fibers are recruited at lower stretch levels under biaxial loads, leading to a rapid stiffening behavior of the tissue. Multiphoton microscopy illustrates that the collagen waviness decreases significantly with the degradation time, resulting in a rapid recruitment when the tissue is loaded. It is concluded that even when residual stresses are released, there exists an intrinsic mechanical interaction between arterial elastin and collagen that determines the mechanics of arteries and carries important implications to vascular mechanobiology.
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