Analysis of red blood cell partitioning at bifurcations in simulated microvascular networks

Peter Balogh, Prosenjit Bagchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


Partitioning of red blood cells (RBCs) at vascular bifurcations has been studied over many decades using in vivo, in vitro, and theoretical models. These studies have shown that RBCs usually do not distribute to the daughter vessels with the same proportion as the blood flow. Such disproportionality occurs, whereby the cell distribution fractions are either higher or lower than the flow fractions and have been referred to as classical partitioning and reverse partitioning, respectively. The current work presents a study of RBC partitioning based on, for the first time, a direct numerical simulation (DNS) of a flowing cell suspension through modeled vascular networks that are comprised of multiple bifurcations and have topological similarity to microvasculature in vivo. The flow of deformable RBCs at physiological hematocrits is considered through the networks, and the 3D dynamics of each individual cell are accurately resolved. The focus is on the detailed analysis of the partitioning, based on the DNS data, as it develops naturally in successive bifurcations, and the underlying mechanisms. We find that while the time-averaged partitioning at a bifurcation manifests in one of two ways, namely, the classical or reverse partitioning, the time-dependent behavior can cycle between these two types. We identify and analyze four different cellular-scale mechanisms underlying the time-dependent partitioning. These mechanisms arise, in general, either due to an asymmetry in the RBC distribution in the feeding vessels caused by the events at an upstream bifurcation or due to a temporary increase in cell concentration near capillary bifurcations. Using the DNS results, we show that a positive skewness in the hematocrit profile in the feeding vessel is associated with the classical partitioning, while a negative skewness is associated with the reverse one. We then present a detailed analysis of the two components of disproportionate partitioning as identified in prior studies, namely, plasma skimming and cell screening. The plasma skimming component is shown to under-predict the disproportionality, leaving the cell screening component to make up for the difference. The crossing of the separation surface by the cells is observed to be a dominant mechanism underlying the cell screening, which is shown to mitigate extreme heterogeneity in RBC distribution across the networks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number051902
JournalPhysics of Fluids
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2018
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Computational Mechanics
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Fluid Flow and Transfer Processes


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