To study the effects of smooth muscle contraction and relaxation on the strain and stress distribution in the vascular wall, a mathematical model was proposed. The artery was assumed to be a thick-walled orthotropic tube made of nonlinear, incompressible elastic material. Considering that the contraction of smooth muscle generates an active circumferential stress in the wall, a numerical study was performed using data available in the literature. The results obtained showed that smooth muscle contraction affects the residual strains which exist in a ring segment cut out from the artery and exposed to no external load. When the ring specimen is cut radially, it springs open with an opening angle. The predicted monotonic increase of the opening angle with increasing muscular tone was in agreement with recent experimental results reported in the literature. It was shown that basal muscular tone, which exists under physiological conditions, reduces the strain gradient in the arterial wall and yields a near uniform stress distribution. During temporary changes in blood pressure, the increase in muscular tone induced by elevated pressure tends to restore the distribution of circumferential strain in the arterial wall, and to maintain the dow-induced wall shear stress to normal level. (C) 1999 Biomedical Engineering Society. [S0090-6964(99)00404-X].
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