Effect of aging on aortic morphology in populations with high and low prevalence of hypertension and atherosclerosis: Comparison between occidental and Chinese communities

R. Virmani*, A. P. Avolio, W. J. Mergner, M. Robinowitz, E. E. Herderick, J. F. Cornhill, S. Y. Guo, T. H. Liu, D. Y. Ou, M. O'Rourke

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

320 Citations (Scopus)


A comparative morphologic study of aortic changes with aging was conducted in different populations in an attempt to separate the effects of hypertension and atherosclerosis. Chinese and the occidental populations were chosen, as they are known to have a high prevalence of hypertension and atherosclerosis, respectively. Aortic tissue was collected from occidental (American and Australian) and Chinese populations from three geographic locations. Postmortem specimens were obtained from four fixed locations: ascending aorta (A), descending thoracic aorta (B), and abdominal aorta (suprarenal [C] and above the aortic bifurcation [D]). Histologic sections were used to measure aortic circumference, medial thickness, intimal thickness, and grade of atherosclerosis. Kidney sections were used to confirm the presence or absence of hypertension. A total of 302 cases (age range, 19 to 104 years; Male-to-female ration, 2:1) were studied: 112 Americans, 80 Australians, and 110 Chinese. Cases were divided into three age groups: 19 to 44; 45 to 64; and 65 years and older. The aortic circumference progressively decreased from sites A to D in all populations and age groups. The aortic circumference increased with age, and the increase was independent of the aortic location. When the populations were separated, however, the greater increase was at location A in the Chinese (P = .008) and locations D in the occidental (P = .13), a population contrast that was significant only in location A. Intimal thickness increased with advancing age and was maximal in the abdominal aorta. The population differences also were significant for intimal thickness and were significantly greater in the occidental population in B, C, and D locations, whereas for atherosclerosis significance was only seen in location D. Hypertension (as defined by the morphologic changes in the kidney) after adjusting for age, height, and weight resulted in no statistical significant effect on aortic circumference or on intimal thickness, but did show a significant increase in atherosclerosis score at locations B, C, and D. Also after adjusting for age, height, and weight, the Chinese had a significantly larger aortic circumference in location A compared with the occidental population, whereas in location D the occidentals with hypertension had a significantly larger circumference compared with Chinese, probably due to an interaction of atherosclerosis and hypertension. After similar adjustments, the medial thickness in locations A and C, the intimal thickness in B, C, and D, and atherosclerosis score in D were significantly greater in occidental than Chinese populations. Therefore aging has a marked effect on aortic morphology in the occidental and Chinese populations influenced by both atherosclerosis and hypertension. These morphologic changes may account for the findings of increased aortic pulse wave velocity observed with advancing age and may be responsible for the systolic hypertension seen in aging populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1119-1129
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Journal of Pathology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1991
Externally publishedYes


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