Microvascular blood viscosity in vivo and the endothelial surface layer

A. R. Pries, T. W. Secomb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

290 Scopus citations


The apparent viscosity of blood in glass tubes declines with decreasing diameter (Fåhraeus-Lindqvist effect) and exhibits a distinctive minimum at 6-7 μm. However, flow resistance in vivo in small vessels is substantially higher than predicted by in vitro viscosity data. The presence of a thick endothelial surface layer (ESL) has been proposed as the primary cause for this discrepancy. Here, a physical model is proposed for microvascular flow resistance as a function of vessel diameter and hematocrit in vivo; it combines in vitro blood viscosity with effects of a diameter-dependent ESL. The model was developed on the basis of flow distributions observed in three microvascular networks in the rat mesentery with 392, 546, and 383 vessel segments, for which vessel diameters, network architecture, flow velocity, and hematocrit were determined by intravital microscopy. A previously described hemodynamic simulation was used to predict the distributions of flow and hematocrit from the assumed model for effective blood viscosity. The dependence of ESL thickness on vessel diameter was estimated by minimizing deviations of predicted values for velocities, flow directions, and hematocrits from measured data. Optimal results were obtained with a layer thickness of ∼0.8-1 μm for 10- to 40-μ-diameter vessels and declined strongly for smaller diameters, with an additional hematocrit-dependent impact on flow resistance exhibiting a maximum for ∼10-μm-diameter vessels. These results show that flow resistance in vivo can be explained by in vitro blood viscosity and the presence of an ESL and indicate the rheologically effective thickness of the ESL in microvessels.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)H2657-H2664
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology
Issue number6 58-6
StatePublished - Dec 2005


  • Flow resistance
  • Glycocalyx
  • Hematocrit
  • Hemodynamics
  • Microcirculation
  • Red blood cell

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)


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