Microvascular Rheology and Hemodynamics


  • Supported in part by NIH research grant R01 HL-39286.

Address correspondence to Herbert H. Lipowsky, PhD, Department of Bioengineering, Penn State University, 205 Hallowell Bldg., University Park, PA, 16802, USA. E-mail: hhlbio@engr.psu.edu


The goal of elucidating the biophysical and physiological basis of pressure–flow relations in the microcirculation has been a recurring theme since the first observations of capillary blood flow in living tissues. At the birth of the Microcirculatory Society, seminal observations on the heterogeneous distribution of blood cells in the microvasculature and the rheological properties of blood in small bore tubes raised many questions on the viscous properties of blood flow in the microcirculation that captured the attention of the Society's membership. It is now recognized that blood viscosity in small bore tubes may fall dramatically as shear rates are increased, and increase dramatically with elevations in hematocrit. These relationships are strongly affected by blood cell deformability and concentration, red cell aggregation, and white cell interactions with the red cells and endothelium. Increasing strength of red cell aggregation may result in sequestration of clumps of red cells with either reductions or increases in microvascular hematocrit dependent upon network topography. During red cell aggregation, resistance to flow may thus decrease with hematocrit reduction or increase due to redistribution of red cells. Blood cell adhesion to the microvessel wall may initiate flow reductions, as, for example, in the case of red cell adhesion to the endothelium in sickle cell disease, or leukocyte adhesion in inflammation. The endothelial glycocalyx has been shown to result from a balance of the biosynthesis of new glycans, and the enzymatic or shear-dependent alterations in its composition. Flow-dependent reductions in the endothelial surface layer may thus affect the resistance to flow and/or the adhesion of red cells and/or leukocytes to the endothelium. Thus, future studies aimed at the molecular rheology of the endothelial surface layer may provide new insights into determinants of the resistance to flow.