Basement membranes have many features that greatly influence vascular endothelial cell function, including a complex three-dimensional topography. As a first step in the design and development of vascular prosthetics, we undertook a thorough characterization of the topographic features of endothelial vascular basement membranes utilizing transmission electron microscopy and scanning electron microscopy. Specifically, we quantitatively analyzed the topographic features present in the aorta, carotid, saphenous, and inferior vena cava vessels in the rhesus macaque. Our results indicate that vascular basement membranes are composed of a complex meshwork consisting of pores and fibers in the submicron (100-1000 nm) and nanoscale (1-100 nm) range, consistent with what has previously been reported in basement membranes of other tissues. We found significant differences (p<0.05) in basement membrane thickness and pore and fiber diameter depending on the location and physical properties of the vessel. These results have relevance to our fundamental understanding of vascular endothelial cell-matrix interactions in health and disease, evolving strategies in cell and tissue engineering and the design of cardiovascular prosthetic devices.
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