The structure of medial elastin determines arterial function and affects wall mechanical properties. The aim of this study was to (1) characterize the structure of elastin in terms of textural features, (2) relate structural parameters to total number of cardiac cycles (TC), and (3) determine the contribution of medial elastin to lumen mechanical stress. Images of pressure-fixed aortic sections stained for elastin were obtained from specimens collected postmortem from 35 animals of different species with a wide range of age, heart rate, and TC and divided into 2 groups: TClow=3.69+/-0.38x10(8) (n=17) and TChigh=15.8+/-2.38x10(8) (n=18) (P<0.001). A directional fractal curve was generated for each image, and image texture was characterized by directional fractal curve parameters. Elastin volume fraction and interlamellar distance were obtained by image analysis. Wall stress distribution was determined from a finite element model of the arterial wall with multiple layers simulating elastin lamellae. DFC amplitude was related to elastin volume fraction. Increased TC (TClow versus TChigh) was associated with lower directional fractal curve amplitude (0.23+/-0.02 versus 0.14+/-0.02; P<0.001), reduced elastin volume fraction (36.5+2.6% versus 25.7+2.1%; P<0.01), and increased interlamellar distance (8.5+/-0.5 versus 11.5+/-1.0 microm; P<0.05). Loss of medial elastic function increased pressure-dependent maximal circumferential stress. Structural alterations of medial elastin, quantified by fractal parameters, are associated with cumulative effects of repeated pulsations due to the combined contribution of age and heart rate. Loss of medial functional elasticity increases luminal wall stress, increasing the possibility of endothelial damage and predisposition to atherosclerosis.