The study investigates the mechanical properties of porcine aortic valve leaflets fixed with a naturally occurring crosslinking agent, genipin, at distinct pressure heads. Fresh and the glutaraldehyde-fixed counterparts were used as controls. Subsequent to fixation, the changes in leaflet collagen crimps and its surface morphology were investigated by light microscopy and scanning electron microscopy (SEM). Also, the crosslinking characteristics of each studied group were determined by measuring its fixation index and denaturation temperature. In the mechanical testing, tissue strips made from each studied group were examined in both the circumferential and radial directions. Histological and SEM comparisons between fresh porcine aortic valve leaflet and those fixed at medium or high pressure revealed that the following changes may occur: elimination of the natural collagen crimping, and extensive loss of the endothelial layer. The denaturation temperatures of the glutaraldehyde-fixed leaflets were significantly greater than the genipin-fixed leaflets; however, their fixation indices were comparable. Generally, fixation pressure did not affect the crosslinking characteristics of the genipin- and glutaraldehyde-fixed leaflets. It was found that fixation of porcine aortic valves in genipin or glutaraldehyde did not alter the mechanical anisotropy observed in fresh valve leaflets. This indicated that the intramolecular and intermolecular crosslinks introduced into the collagen fibrils during fixation is of secondary importance to the presence of structural and mechanical anisotropy in fresh leaflet. Tissue fixation in genipin or glutaraldehyde may produce distinct crosslinking structures. However, the difference in crosslinking structure between the genipin- and glutaraldehyde-fixed leaflets did not seem to cause any significant discrepancies in their mechanical properties when compared at the same fixation pressure. Nevertheless, regardless of the crosslinking agent used, changes in mechanical properties and ruptured patterns were observed when the valve leaflets were fixed at distinct pressures. (C) 1999 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.