Motion of red blood cells in capillaries with variable cross-sections

T. W. Secomb, R. Hsu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Red blood cells undergo continual deformation when traversing microvessels in living tissues. This may contribute to higher resistance to blood flow observed in living microvessels, compared with that in corresponding uniform glass tubes. We use a theoretical model to simulate single-file motion of red cells though capillaries with variable cross-sections, assuming axisymmetric geometry. Effects of cell membrane shear viscosity and elasticity are included, but bending resistance is neglected. Lubrication theory is used to describe the flow of surrounding plasma. When a red cell encounters a region of capillary narrowing, additional energy is dissipated, due to membrane viscosity, and due to narrowing of the lubrication layer, increasing the flow resistance. Predicted resistance to cell motion in a vessel with periodic constrictions (diameter varying between 5 μm and 4 μm) is roughly twice that in a uniform vessel with diameter 4.5 μm. Effects of transient red cell deformations may contribute significantly to blood flow resistance in living microvessels.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)538-544
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Biomechanical Engineering
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Physiology (medical)


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