Arterial intimal embrittlement. A possible factor in atherogenesis

Atherosclerosis. 1986 Feb;59(2):161-71. doi: 10.1016/0021-9150(86)90045-6.


Sections of aorta, coronary artery, basilar artery and vena cava were collected at autopsy. Macroscopically normal intimal specimens were removed by stripping. Intimal collagen was measured as hydroxyproline. Intimal film embrittlement was measured in vitro by a bursting volume distensibility test developed in our laboratory. There was an average increase of over 100% in the collagen content of apparently lesion-free human arterial intima on aging over a fifty-year period. This includes an increase of 113% for aortic intima, 49% increase for coronary artery intima, and an increase of 158% in collagen in basilar artery intima. In contrast the collagen level in the vena caval intima decreases on aging, by 42% in fifty years. The large increase in collagen in arterial intima is accompanied by a large increase in intimal embrittlement. The decreasing collagen content of the venous intima on aging results in increased distensibility. Increased aortic intimal film embrittlement (lower distensibility) correlates with age (R = 0.699), but even better with intimal collagen (R = 0.911), suggesting that aortic intimal collagen level is a more important determinant of intimal embrittlement than age. Men, older than 55, have significantly higher aortic intimal collagen levels than women. Embrittlement of arterial intima should make it more susceptible to injury under the pulsatile pressure of the blood. Decreased venous intimal collagen and greater distensibility on aging could be factors in the development of venous valvular insufficiency and varicose veins. However, our study of veins was performed primarily as a control in this instance. Fundamental elements in the atherogenic process are increased intimal collagen, increased intimal brittleness, endothelial injury, followed by intimal cell proliferation. In the vena caval intima on aging there is decreased collagen, increased intimal distensibility, no injury due to increased pulse or blood pressure, and, therefore, no cell proliferation and no intimal lesion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aorta / pathology
  • Arteries / pathology*
  • Arteries / physiopathology
  • Arteriosclerosis / etiology*
  • Arteriosclerosis / pathology
  • Arteriosclerosis / physiopathology
  • Basilar Artery / pathology
  • Child
  • Collagen / metabolism
  • Coronary Vessels / pathology
  • Elasticity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Stress, Mechanical
  • Venae Cavae / pathology


  • Collagen