Viscoelastic characterization of human descending thoracic aortas under cyclic load

Giulio Franchini, Ivan D. Breslavsky, Gerhard A. Holzapfel, Marco Amabili*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Experiments were carried out on 15 human descending thoracic aortas from heart-beating healthy donors who donated organs for transplant. The aortas were kept refrigerated in organ preservation solution and tested were completed within 48 hours from explant. Donors’ age was comprised between 25 and 70 years, with an average of 51.7 ± 12.8 years. Quasi-static and dynamic uniaxial tensile test were carried out in thermally controlled physiological saline solution in order to characterize the viscoelastic behavior. Strips were tested under harmonic deformation of different frequency, between 1 and 11 Hz, at three initial pre-stretches. Cyclic deformations of two different amplitudes were used: a physiological one and a small one, the latter one for comparison purposes to understand the accuracy limits of viscoelastic models. Aortic strips in circumferential and longitudinal directions were cut from each aorta. Some strips were dissected to separate the three layers: intima, media and adventitia. They were tested individually in order to obtain layer-specific data. However, strips of the intact wall were also tested. Therefore, 8 strips per donors were tested. Viscoelastic parameters are accurately evaluated from the hysteresis loops. Results show that small-amplitude cyclic strain over-estimate the storage modulus and under-estimate the loss-factor. Therefore, cyclic deformation of physiological amplitude is necessary to obtain correct viscoelastic data of aortic tissue. The value of the applied pre-stretch is significant on the dynamic stiffness ratio (storage modulus divided by the corresponding quasi-static stiffness), while it is less significant for the loss factor. The median of the dynamic stiffness ratios, in physiological conditions, varies between 1.14 and 1.33 for the different layers and the intact wall; the corresponding median of the loss factors varies between 0.050 and 0.066. The lowest dynamic stiffness ratios and loss factors were obtained from donors of the youngest age group. Statement of significance: There is an increasing interest in replacing traditional Dacron grafts used to repair thoracic aortas after acute dissection and aneurysm, with grafts in innovative biomaterials that mimic the mechanical properties and the dynamic behavior of the aorta. The human aorta is a complex laminated structure with hyperelastic and viscoelastic material properties and residual stresses. This study aims to characterize the nonlinear viscoelastic properties of ex-vivo human descending thoracic aortas by measuring hysteresis loops of physiological amplitude under harmonic strain. Results show the necessity to characterize the viscoelastic material properties of the aorta under physiological conditions, as well as the necessity to introduce improved models that take better into account the influence of the initial pre-stretch and amplitude of the cyclic load.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)291-307
Number of pages17
JournalActa Biomaterialia
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021


  • Experiments
  • Human aorta
  • Layer-specific
  • Viscoelasticity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Molecular Biology


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