In ascending aorta aneurysms, there is an enlargement of the whole vessel, whereas aortic dissections (ADs) are characterized by the cleavage of the wall into 2 sheets at the external half. We searched if alterations in collagen could be related to these diseases. Sections of aortas from 14 case patients with acute dissections, 10 case patients with aneurysms, and 9 control subjects were stained with picrosirius. Slides were analyzed under polarized microscopy to evaluate the structure of collagen fibers. The proportion of collagen was calculated in each half of the medial layer by color detection in a computerized image analysis system. Collagen appearance under polarized light was consistent with collagenolysis. The mean collagen proportions at the inner and outer halves, respectively, were 0.50 +/- 0.13 and 0.40 +/- 0.08 in the control group, 0.20 +/- 0.10 and 0.18 +/- 0.12 in the AD group, and 0.33 +/- 0.12 and 0.19 +/- 0.12 in the aneurysm group. The AD (P < .01) and control (P = .04) groups had less collagen at the external half; no difference was found in the aneurysm group (P = .71). In both halves, there was less collagen in the case patients than in the control subjects (all P < .01), but at the internal half, the decrease was significantly greater in the case patients with aneurysms than in those with dissections (P = .03; at the external half, P = .99). Aortic dissections and aneurysms show a decrease in collagen content that could be related to a weakness of the wall underlying the diseases, but the locations of the decrease differ: in dissections, it is situated mostly at the external portion of the media (site of cleavage), whereas in aneurysms, it is more diffuse, consistent with the global enlargement.