© 2016 The Physiological Society.Advancing age may be the most potent independent predictor of future cardiovascular events, a relationship that is not fully explained by time-related changes in traditional cardiovascular risk factors. Since some arteries exhibit differential susceptibility to atherosclerosis, generalisations regarding the impact of ageing in humans may be overly simplistic, whereas in vivo assessment of arterial function and health provide direct insight. Coronary and peripheral (conduit, resistance and skin) arteries demonstrate a gradual, age-related impairment in vascular function that is likely to be related to a reduction in endothelium-derived nitric oxide bioavailability and/or increased production of vasoconstrictors (e.g. endothelin-1). Increased exposure and impaired ability for defence mechanisms to resist oxidative stress and inflammation, but also cellular senescence processes, may contribute to age-related changes in vascular function and health. Arteries also undergo structural changes as they age. Gradual thickening of the arterial wall, changes in wall content (i.e. less elastin, advanced glycation end-products) and increase in conduit artery diameter are observed with older age and occur similarly in central and peripheral arteries. These changes in structure have important interactive effects on artery function, with increases in small and large arterial stiffness representing a characteristic change with older age. Importantly, direct measures of arterial function and structure predict future cardiovascular events, independent of age or other cardiovascular risk factors. Taken together, and given the differential susceptibility of arteries to atherosclerosis in humans, direct measurement of arterial function and health may help to distinguish between biological and chronological age-related change in arterial health in humans.
Thijssen, D. H. J., Carter, S. E., & Green, D. J. (2016). Arterial structure and function in vascular ageing: Are you as old as your arteries? Journal of Physiology, 594(8), 2275-2284. https://doi.org/10.1113/JP270597