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Microvasc Res. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2010 August 9.

Published in final edited form as:

Published online 2009 February 4. doi: 10.1016/j.mvr.2009.01.010

PMCID: PMC2917820

NIHMSID: NIHMS212189

The publisher's final edited version of this article is available at Microvasc Res

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Concentrated erythrocyte (i.e., red blood cell) suspensions flowing in microchannels have been simulated with an immersed-boundary lattice Boltzmann algorithm, to examine the cell layer development process and the effects of cell deformability and aggregation on hemodynamic and hemorheological behaviors. The cells are modeled as two-dimensional deformable biconcave capsules and experimentally measured cell properties have been utilized. The aggregation among cells is modeled by a Morse potential. The flow development process demonstrates how red blood cells migrate away from the boundary toward the channel center, while the suspending plasma fluid is displaced to the cell free layer regions left by the migrating cells. Several important characteristics of microscopic blood flows observed experimentally have been well reproduced in our model, including the cell free layer, blunt velocity profile, changes in apparent viscosity, and the Fahraeus effect. We found that the cell free layer thickness increases with both cell deformability and aggregation strength. Due to the opposing effects of the cell free layer lubrication and the high viscosity of cell-concentrated core, the influence of aggregation is complex but. The lubrication effect appears to dominate, causing the relative apparent viscosity to decrease with aggregation. It appears therefore that the immersed-boundary lattice Boltzmann numerical model may be useful in providing valuable information on microscopic blood flows in various microcirculation situations.

Erythrocytes (i.e., red blood cells, RBCs) are an important determinant of the rheological properties of blood because of their large number density (~ 5 × 10^{6}/mm^{3}), particular mechanical properties, and aggregation tendency. Typically, a human RBC has a biconcave shape of ~ 8 *μ*m in diameter and ~ 2 *μ*m in thickness, and is highly deformable [1, 2]. The interior fluid (cytoplasm) has a viscosity of 6 cP, which is about 5 times of that of the suspending plasma (~ 1.2 cP). At low shear stress, RBCs can also aggregate and form one-dimensional stacks-of-coins-like rouleaux or three-dimensional (3D) aggregates [1, 3, 4]. The process is reversible and particularly important in the microcirculation, since such rouleaux or aggregates can dramatically increase effective blood viscosity. RBCs may also exhibit reduced deformability and stronger aggregation in many pathological situations, such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, malaria, and sickle cell anemia [1]. The underlying mechanism of RBC aggregation is still under debate [1, 4].

As a consequence of red cell size, the nature of blood flow changes greatly with the vessel diameter. In vessels larger than 200 *μ*m, the blood flow can be accurately modeled as a homogeneous fluid. However, in vessels smaller than this, such as arterioles and venules, and especially capillaries (4–10 *μ*m, i.d.), the RBCs have to be treated as discrete fluid capsules suspended in the plasma. When flowing in microvessels, the flexible RBCs migrate toward the vessel central region, resulting in a RBC concentrated core in the center, and a cell free layer (CFL) is developed near the vessel wall. Such phenomena are important in microcirculation since they are closely related to the flow resistance and biological transport [1]. Traditionally, to incorporate the CFL effects, microscopic blood flows are modeled as multiphase flows with an interface between the peripheral CFL and the RBC concentrated core [5]. Using such an approach, it is difficult to incorporate the effects of cell properties on hemodynamics and it is not suitable for investigation of the microscopic flow structures.

Benefiting from advances in computer and simulation technologies, now it is possible to model individual RBCs as discrete particles suspended in the plasma media. For example, Pozrikidis and coworkers [6–8] have employed the boundary integral method for Stokes flows to investigate RBC deformation and motion in shear and channel flows; Eggleton and Popel [9] have combined the immersed boundary method (IBM) [10] with a finite element treatment of the RBC membrane to simulate large 3D RBC deformations in shear flow. Recently, a lattice Boltzmann approach has also been adopted for RBC flows in microvessels, where the RBCs were represented as two-dimensional (2D) rigid particles [11]. Bagchi [12] has simulated a large RBC population in vessels of size 20–300 *μ*m. However, RBC aggregation, which has been demonstrated experimentally as an important factor in determining hemodynamic and hemorheological behaviors in microcirculation [1, 3, 13], was not considered in these studies. Liu et al. [14] modeled the intercellular interactions using a Morse potential, thus accounting for RBC aggregation. The cell membrane was modeled with 3D elastic finite elements. Therefore the empirical RBC membrane constitutive relationships, which assume the membrane is a 2D sheet, cannot be utilized directly. Bagchi et al. [15] have extended the IBM approach of Eggleton and Popel [9] to two-cell systems and introduced the intercellular interaction using a ligand-receptor binding model. For rigid particles, Chung et al. [16] have studied the behavior of two rigid elliptical particles in a channel flow utilizing the theoretical formulation of depletion energy proposed by Neu and Meiselman [17]. It has been noted that such a description yields a constant (instead of a decaying) attractive force with large separations, which is not physically realistic [16]. Sun and Munn [18] have also improved their lattice Boltzmann model by including an interaction force between rigid RBCs.

Recently, we have developed an integrated model to study RBC behaviors in both shear and channel flows [19, 20]. This model combines the lattice Boltzmann method (LBM) for fluid flows and IBM for the fluid-membrane interaction. Crucial factors, including the membrane deformability, viscosity difference across the RBC membrane, and intercellular aggregation, have been carefully considered in the model. The aim of this study was to investigate the effect of different RBC deformabilities and aggregation strengths on CFL structure and flow resistance in microscopic blood flows. We also explored the process of RBC flow development upon the application of an external pressure gradient. Finally, our results are also compared to previous experimental observations and numerical simulations.

The undeformed human RBC has a biconcave shape as described by the following equation [21]:

(1)

where *c*_{0}= 0.207, *c*_{1}= 2.002, and *c*_{2}= 1.122. The non-dimensional coordinates (, ) are normalized by the radius of a human RBC (3.91 *μ*m). The RBC membrane is a neo-Hookean, highly deformable viscoelastic material with a finite bending resistance that becomes more profound in regions with large curvature [22, 23]. For the 2D RBC model in the present study, following Bagchi et al. [12, 15], the neo-Hookean elastic component of membrane stress can be expressed as

(2)

where *E _{s}* is the membrane elastic modulus and

(3)

where *E _{b}* is the bending modulus and

(4)

Here **n** is the local normal direction on the membrane.

Currently, there are two theoretical descriptions of the aggregation mechanism: the bridging model and the depletion model [1, 4]. The former assumes that macromolecules, such as fibrinogen or dextran, can adhere onto the adjacent RBC surfaces and bridge them together [24–26]. The depletion model attributes the RBC aggregation to a polymer depletion layer between RBC surfaces, which is accompanied by a decrease of the osmotic pressure [27, 28]. Detailed discussions of these two models can be found elsewhere (see, for example, a review by Baumler et al. [4]). To incorporate the aggregation, here we modeled the intercellular interaction energy as a Morse potential:

(5)

where *r* is the surface separation, *r*_{0} and *D _{e}* are, respectively, the zero force separation and surface energy, and

A recently proposed IBM-LBM algorithm [19, 20] was employed in this study. In this model, the fluid dynamics was solved by application of LBM while the fluid-membrane interaction was incorporated using IBM. In addition, the fluid property (viscosity here) also has to be updated dynamically with changing RBC shapes and locations. For this purpose, an index *θ* was introduced, which is 0 in plasma and 1 in cytoplasm. A detailed description of this numerical scheme is provided in the Appendix.

Simulations were carried out over a 100×300 D2Q9 grid (19.5 *μ*m×58.5 *μ*m) domain with 27 biconcave RBCs (Figure 1a). No-slip and periodic boundary conditions were imposed on the channel surfaces and the inlet/outlet, respectively [29]. The volume conservation of RBCs in our 2D simulations was naturally accomplished in IBM. The actual changes in the enclosed RBC areas were typically less than 1% due to numerical errors. Flow was initiated by a pressure gradient along the channel, using a recently proposed boundary treatment [30]. The applied pressure gradient here is 62.5 kPa/m; such a pressure gradient, according to the Poiseuille law, will generate a mean velocity of 1.65 mm/s for a pure plasma flow with no RBCs. This velocity is in the typical range in microcirculation for microvessels of this size [11, 31].

Representative snapshots of the flow developing process of normal RBCs with moderate aggregation. The red and blue circles are fluid tracers inside RBCs and in plasma, respectively; and the black circles are a membrane marker on one RBC. The four fluid **...**

The membrane of each RBC was represented by 100 equal-length segments, and the tube hematocrit (*H _{T}*) in our simulations was 32.2%.. The simulation parameter values are listed in Table I. Experimental values are not available for the parameters in the Morse potential Eq. (5) for the intercellular interaction. The

To visualize the flow field over a time period, we employed virtual tracers in our simulations. The tracer position **x*** _{t}*(

(6)

where Δ*t* is the time step, and **u** is the fluid velocity. Such tracers serve the purpose of flow visualization and have no influence on simulation results. The volumetric flow rates of the blood suspension *Q _{total}* and of the RBCs

(7)

and

(8)

respectively. The discharge hematocrit, *H _{D}*, can also be evaluated from the averaged values of

(9)

In addition, as a measure of the resistance increase due to the RBC existence, the relative apparent viscosity *μ _{rel}* is defined as

(10)

where *Q _{p}* =

Simulation snapshots at 10 representative time steps are shown in Figure 1 for normal RBCs with moderate aggregation. Once the pressure gradient is applied, the suspension begins to flow, accompanied by large cell deformations due to various local flow conditions. Meanwhile, during the flow development, RBCs near the boundaries migrate toward the channel center. As a result, CFLs are formed near the channel boundaries and the central region has a higher RBC concentration (Figure 1j). Also displayed in Figure 1 is a membrane marker (the black circle) showing the tank-treating-like membrane motion as the cell drifts and deforms.

Six representative fluid tracers, two inside RBCs and four in plasma, are displayed in the snapshots in Figure 1. The membrane marker (black circle) and the fluid tracer inside that RBC undergo a tank-treading motion. The four tracers in plasma are labeled as 1 to 4. For tracer 1 initially positioned near the lower boundary, its movement is mainly in the flow direction with small transverse fluctuations. However, tracers 2 and 3, originally between RBCs, are quickly displaced toward the boundary CFL regions by the center-ward migrating RBCs (see Figures 1b–g for tracer 2 and 1e–i for tracer 3). Once the tracers arrive in the CFL regions, they behave very similarly to tracer 1 and move mainly in the flow direction. Tracer 4 is trapped between RBCs in the center region and has never entered the CFL regions during the simulation. Their trajectories are also plotted in Figure 2 to show their different behaviors more clearly. As expected, tracer 4 moves much faster than tracers 1–3 at the periphery., In general, a fluid particle will be displaced to the CFL region by migrating RBCs, unless it is closely surrounded by RBCs. Once a fluid particle reaches the CFL region, it will generally maintain that transverse location as it flows downstream. Although this analysis involves virtual fluid tracers, such results imply that small solid particles in blood will accumulate in CFL regions, as has been observed in experiments with platelets [33].

A more quantitative analysis for the developing process discussed above can also be performed. Figure 3a displays the volumetric flow rates of the blood suspension *Q _{total}* and of the RBCs

(a) The total and RBC flow rates, (b) the averaged *θ* distributions, and (c) the averaged velocity profiles during the developing process. In (b) and (c), the profiles are taken at *t* = 0.4, 1.0, 3.0, and 7.0 ×10^{6} in the arrow directions. **...**

Figure 3b shows the RBC distribution profiles during the flow development, where *θ* has been averaged along the channel. It can be seen that, as time progresses, a layer of *θ* = 0, which by definition is pure plasma, develops near each boundary surface and its thickness increases with time. Also displayed in Figure 3c are the streamwise averaged velocity profiles at several time points. As observed in in-vivo and in-vitro experiments [1], such velocity profiles have blunt shapes due to the high fluid viscosity of the RBC-rich core in the central region. Compared to a pure plasma flow under the same pressure gradient (Figure 3c, dashed line), the flow rate of blood suspension *Q _{total}* is smaller, and the relative apparent viscosity

Similar 2D systems have been investigated by Sun and Munn [11] and Bagchi [12]. Aggregation was not considered in those studies. For rigid RBCs with *H _{T}* = 30.5% flowing in a 20

The relative stable states of the blood flows with different deformabilities (left: normal; right: less deformable) and aggregation strengths (from top to bottom: none, moderate, and strong). The flow fields are also displayed by arrows. The simulation **...**

Unlike these previous 2D numerical studies, we have not attempted to compare our simulation results to the empirical relationships proposed by Pries *et al.* [34]. We believe that 2D studies, although valuable, can only provide qualitative information. For example, the CFL/RBC-core cross-sectional area ratio are 2*δ*/*H* and 4*δ* (*D* − *δ*)/*D*^{2} (*D* is the vessel diameter) for 2D and 3D situations, respectively. For *δ* = 3 *μ*m and *H* = *D* = 20 *μ*m, 2*δ*/*H* = 0.3 and 4*δ* (*D* − *δ*)/*D*^{2} = 0.51, implying a less profound CFL lubrication effect and a lower core hematocrit in 2D simulations compared to the corresponding 3D systems. Also the apparent viscosity of a RBC suspension may be very different in 2D and 3D systems, even with the same hematocrit. It is interesting to note that Sun and Munn [11] found a good agreement to the Pries formula [34] for the hematocrit-viscosity relationship, although the cells were represented as rigid particles. However, for *H _{T}* = 30.5% in a 20

The simulations with different RBC deformabilities and aggregation strengths (Table I) are summarized in Figures 4 and and55 and Table II. Less deformable RBCs are modeled by increasing the membrane shear and bending modular to twenty times of their normal values, i.e., *E _{s}* = 1.2 × 10

(a) *θ* distributions and (b) velocity profiles at the relative stable states with different deformabilities and aggregation strengths. The dashed lines are the initial *θ* distribution in (a) and the parabolic velocity profile of a pure plasma **...**

CFL thickness *δ*, relative apparent viscosity *μ*_{rel}, and discharge hematocrit *H*_{D} for different cell deformabilities and aggregation strengths

In Figure 5, we have plotted the averaged fluid index *θ* and streamwise velocity *u* for these six different cases. CFLs (*θ* = 0 regions in Figure 5a) have developed near the boundaries and concentrated RBC cores with high *θ* values have formed in the central region. The measured CFL thicknesses *δ* are listed in Table II. Clearly *δ* increases with both the cell deformability and aggregation strength. For the less deformable RBCs with no aggregation, no CFLs are evident in Figure 4b, similar to the findings of Sun and Munn [11], where RBCs were modeled as rigid particles. The measured *δ* for this case is 1.32 *μ*m, the smallest value in all six cases. The relative apparent viscosities calculated according to Eq. (10) are listed in Table II. All these relative viscosities are greater than 1 because of the existence of RBCs. Obviously the RBC deformability plays a definitive role. The relative apparent viscosity increases with a decrease in cell deformability. However, the aggregation effect is more complex. With stronger aggregation, the denser RBC core has a higher viscosity; whereas the larger CFL will generate a more significant lubricating effect, which tends to reduce the global apparent viscosity. This finding may help to explain the contradictory experimental findings in the literature [35]. In our simulations at low flow rates, the lubrication effect appears more profound, and the relative apparent viscosity *μ _{rel}* generally decreases with aggregation. This trend is in a good agreement with experimental findings by several groups [36–39]. However, when moderate aggregation is introduced,

A recently developed IBM-LBM model has been applied to study the effects of RBC deformability and aggregation on the hemodynamic and hemorheological behaviors of microscopic blood flows. When a pressure gradient is applied, RBCs near the channel boundaries migrate toward the channel center, creating a concentrated RBC core, and plasma fluid in that region is displaced toward the CFL regions. Tank-treading motion of the RBCs also occurred. We found that a fluid particle is likely to be displaced laterally by RBCs, unless it is closely surrounded by RBCs. This finding may help to explain the typical U-shaped distribution of platelets in microvessels observed experimentally [33]. In addition, several typical microscopic hemodynamic and hemorheological characteristics have been observed, such as the blunt velocity profile, changes in apparent viscosity, and the Fahraeus effect. We also found that CFL thickness increases with cell deformability, since the membrane deformability allows the cells to deform and create a concentrated core. However, the influence of aggregation is more complex due to the opposing effects of the CFL lubrication and the high RBC core viscosity. This leads to a decrease in effective viscosity with higher levels of aggregability in our study, in agreement with in vitro experimental findings [38]. Overall, we find that our model predicts important aspects of blood flow behaviors observed both in microcirculatory vessels and in vitro. This suggests that the model may also be helpful in understanding the factors involved, for example, in the intravascular distribution and delivery to target organs of stem cells, drugs and genetic materials that are less amenable to experimental study. Extending this model to 3D systems would provide more quantitative results.

This work was supported by NIH grants HL18292 and HL079087. J. Zhang acknowledges the financial support from the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and a start-up grant from the Laurentian University. P. C. Johnson is also a Senior Scientist at La Jolla Bioengineering Institute. This work was made possible by the facilities of the Shared Hierarchical Academic Research Computing Network (SHARCNET:www.sharcnet.ca).

In LBM, a fluid is modeled as pseudo-particles moving over a lattice domain at discrete time steps. The major variable in LBM is the density distribution *f _{i}*(

(A.1)

where **c*** _{i}* denotes the

(A.2)

where *τ* is a relaxation parameter and the equilibrium distribution
can be expressed as i [42]

(A.3)

Here *ρ* = Σ* _{i}f_{i}* is the fluid density and

(A.4)

(A.5)

where *ν* is the kinematic shear viscosity given by

(A.6)

and *P* is the pressure expressed as

(A.7)

It can be seen from the above description that the microscopic LBM dynamics is local (i.e., only the very neighboring lattice nodes are involved to update the density distribution *f _{i}*), and hence a LBM algorithm is advantageous for parallel computations [29]. Also its particulate nature allows it to be relatively easily applied to systems with complex boundaries, such as flows in porous materials [29]. Such features could be valuable for future studies of RBC flows in more complicated and realistic systems.

In the 1970s, Peskin [10] developed the novel immersed boundary method (IBM) to simulate flexible membranes in fluid flows. The membrane-fluid interaction is accomplished by distributing membrane forces as local fluid forces and updating membrane configuration according to local flow velocity.

Figure A.1 displays a segment of membrane and the nearby fluid domain, where filled circles represent membrane nodes and open circles represent fluid nodes. In IBM, the membrane force **f**(**x*** _{m}*) at a membrane marker

A schematic of the immersed boundary method. The open circles are fluid nodes and the filled circles represent the membrane nodes. The membrane force calculated at node **x**_{m} is distributed to the fluid nodes **x**_{f} in the 2*h* × 2*h* square (dashed lines) **...**

(A.8)

through a discrete delta function *D*(**x**), which is chosen to approximate the properties of the Dirac delta function [9, 10, 43]. In our two-dimensional system, *D*(**x**) is given as

(A.9)

(A.10)

Here *h* is the lattice unit. The membrane velocity **u**(**x*** _{m}*) can be updated in a similar way according to the local flow field:

(A.11)

We note that both the force distribution Eq.(A.8) and velocity interpolation Eq.(A.11) should be carried out in a 4*h* × 4*h* region (dashed square in Figure A.1) [10], instead of a circular region of radius 2*h* as described elsewhere [43–45]. This is due to the specific approximation of the delta function Eq.(A.9) adopted in IBM. It can be shown that the sum of non-zero values of Eq.(A.9) in the square region is 1, and hence missing any nodes inside the square and outside of the circle of radius 2*h* would produce an inaccuracy in fluid forces and membrane velocity.

The fluids separated by the membrane can have different properties, such as density and viscosity. In our system, the densities of cytoplasm of RBC and plasma are similar and the difference could be neglected for low Reynolds numbers. However, for normal RBCs, the viscosity of cytoplasm is 5 times of that of the suspending plasma. As the membrane moves with the fluid flow, the fluid properties (here the viscosity) should be adjusted accordingly. This process seems straightforward; however, it is not trivial. Typically, an index field is introduced to identify the relative position of a fluid node to the membrane. In previous IBM studies, Tryggvason *et al.* [46] solved the index field through a Poisson equation over the entire domain at each time step, but the available information from the explicitly tracked membrane is not fully employed [45]. On the other hand, Shyy and coworkers [43–45] suggested to update the fluid properties directly according to the normal distance to the membrane surface. We prefer the latter approach for its simple algorithm and computational efficiency. However, the originally proposed formulations of the Heaviside function are coordinate dependent [20]. To overcome this drawback, here we modify this approach by simply defining an index *d* of a fluid node as the shortest distance to the membrane. If the node is close to two or more membrane segments, the index taken is that to the closest one. This index also has a sign, which is negative outside of the membrane and positive inside. Similar to the approach of Shyy and coworkers [43, 44], a Heaviside function is defined as

(A.12)

A varying fluid property *α* can then be related to the index *d* by

(A.13)

where the subscripts *in* and *out* indicate, respectively, the bulk values inside and outside of the membrane. It can be seen from Eq.(A.12) that, as the membrane moves, only the nodes close to the membrane (|*d*| ≤ 2*h*) will be affected. Therefore, in the computer program we need only to calculate the index and update the fluid properties in the vicinity of the membrane. Such a process should be more efficient than solving a Poisson equation over the entire fluid domain [46].

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