The network of collagen fibers in the aortic valve leaflet is believed to play an important role in the strength and durability of the valve. However, in addition to its stress-bearing role, such a fiber network has the potential to produce functionally important shape changes in the closed valve under pressure load. We measured the average pattern of the collagen network in porcine aortic valve leaflets after staining for collagen. We then used finite element simulation to explore how this collagen pattern influences the shape of the closed valve. We observed a curved or bent pattern, with collagen fibers angled downward from the commissures toward the center of the leaflet to form a pattern that is concave toward the leaflet free edge. Simulations showed that these curved fiber trajectories straighten under pressure load, leading to functionally important changes in closed valve shape. Relative to a pattern of straight collagen fibers running parallel to the leaflet free edge, the concave pattern of curved fibers produces a closed valve with a 40% increase in central leaflet coaptation height and with decreased leaflet billow, resulting in a more physiological closed valve shape. Furthermore, simulations show that these changes in loaded leaflet shape reflect changes in leaflet curvature due to modulation of in-plane membrane stress resulting from straightening of the curved fibers. This effect appears to play an important role in normal valve function and may have important implications for the design of prosthetic and tissue engineered replacement valves.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by Grant R01 HL110997 from the National Institutes of Health .
- Aortic valve
- Collagen pattern
- Finite element model