The aortic arch and the descending aorta in the fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) are structurally and mechanically very different from comparable vessels in other mammals. Although the external diameter of the whale's descending thoracic aorta (approximately 12 cm) is similar to that predicted by scaling relationships for terrestrial mammals, the wall thickness:diameter ratio in the whale (0.015) is much smaller than the characteristic value for other mammals (0.05). In addition, the elastic modulus of the thoracic aorta (12 MPa at 13 kPa blood pressure) is about 30 times higher than in other mammals. In contrast, the whale's aortic arch has a wall thickness/diameter ratio (0.055) and an elastic modulus (0.4 MPa) that are essentially identical to those for other mammals. However, the aortic arch is unusual in that it can be deformed biaxially to very large strains without entering a region of high stiffness caused by the recruitment of fully extended collagen fibres. Chemical composition studies indicate that the elastin:collagen ratio is high in the aortic arch (approximately 2:1) and that this ratio falls in the thoracic (approximately 1:2) and abdominal (approximately 1:3) aortas, but the magnitude of the change in composition does not account for the dramatic difference in mechanical properties. This suggests that there are differences in the elastin and collagen fibre architecture of these vessels. The descending aorta contains dense bands of tendon-like, wavy collagen fibres that run in the plane of the arterial wall, forming a fibre-lattice that runs in parallel to the elastin lamellae and reinforces the wall, making it very stiff. The aortic arch contains a very different collagen fibre-lattice in which fibres appear to have a component of orientation that runs through the thickness of the artery wall. This suggests that the collagen fibres may be arranged in series with elastin-containing elements, a difference in tissue architecture that could account for both the lower stiffness and the extreme extensibility of the whale's aortic arch. Thus, both the structure and the mechanical behaviour of the lamellar units in the aortic arch and aorta of the whale have presumably been modified to produce the unusual mechanical and haemodynamic properties of the whale circulation.

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