Aortic stiffness and the pathogenesis of cardiovascular disease
When the heart beats, it pumps blood into the arterial system. The heart is connected directly to the aorta, which is the largest artery in the body. The normal aorta is highly elastic and buffers the pressure swings that accompany each heartbeat. When the aorta stiffens, the pressure swings in the aorta and arteries throughout the body increase and can lead to development of high blood pressure. These abnormal swings in blood pressure during each heartbeat can damage fragile small vessels in high flow organs such as the brain and kidneys, leading to cognitive impairment, dementia and chronic kidney disease. In addition, the excessive pressure swings increase load on the heart and can result in enlargement of the heart and development of heart failure. Our research project will define factors that contribute to stiffening of the aorta and will examine consequences of aortic stiffening on brain, kidney and heart structure and function. Identification of factors that contribute to stiffening of the aorta will offer insight into potential lifestyle modifications or treatments that can prevent or reverse aortic stiffening and limit the premature morbidity and deaths attributable to aortic stiffening and high blood pressure.