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Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2009 Feb;29(2):158-61. doi: 10.1161/ATVBAHA.108.166736. Epub 2008 Nov 26.

Discovery of the role of wall shear in atherosclerosis.

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Department of Bioengineering, Imperial College London, UK.


The suggestion was made in the 1870s that mechanical irritation of the arterial wall is a cause of atherosclerosis, because the changes were chiefly found at points "exposed to the full stress and impact of the blood." The mechanical damage theory persisted until well into the 20th century when, with interest increasing in multidisciplinary research, two fluid mechanical proposals were advanced for the patchy distribution of the lesions. One advocated high- and the other low-wall shear. Arterial wall shear stress levels appeared, however, insufficiently high to damage the endothelium. In contrast, examination of cadaver human arteries, combined with flow studies in models and casts of arteries, implied that the lesions occurred preferentially in regions expected to experience low-wall shear; a mechanism, involving arterial wall lipid metabolism and shear-dependent blood-wall mass transport, was suggested to account for that distribution. These proposals helped stimulate extensive investigation of arterial fluid mechanics/mass transport and vascular biology/pathology, revealing mechanisms that may explain the now widely confirmed preferred occurrence of atherosclerosis in low wall shear regions in adult human beings.

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