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Red blood cells (RBC) carry and deliver oxygen (O2) to peripheral tissues through different microcirculatory regions where they are exposed to various levels of shear stress (SS). O2 affinity of hemoglobin (Hb) decreases as the blood enters the microcirculation. This phenomenon determines Hb interactions with RBC membrane proteins that can further regulate the structure of cytoskeleton and affect the mechanical properties of cells. The goal of this study is to evaluate shear-induced RBC deformability and simulate RBC dynamics in blood flow under oxygenated and deoxygenated conditions. Venous blood samples from healthy donors were oxygenated with ambient air or deoxygenated with 100% nitrogen gas for 10 min and immediately applied into an ektacytometer (LORRCA). RBC deformability was measured before and after the application of continuous 5 Pa SS for 300 s by LORRCA and recorded as elongation index (EI) values. A computational model was generated for the simulation of blood flow in a real carotid artery section. EI distribution throughout the artery and its relationships with velocity, pressure, wall SS and viscosity were determined by computational tools. RBC deformability significantly increased in deoxygenation compared to oxygenated state both before and after 5 Pa SS implementation (p < 0.0001). However, EI values after continuous SS were not significant at higher SS levels (>5.15 Pa) in deoxygenated condition. Simulation results revealed that the velocity gradient dominates the generation of SS and the shear thinning effect of blood has a minor effect on it. Distribution of EI was calculated during oxygenation/deoxygenation which is 5-10 times higher around the vessel wall compared to the center of the lumen for sections of the pulsatile flow profile. The extent of RBC deformability increases as RBCs approach to the vessel wall in a real 3D artery model and this increment is higher for deoxygenated condition compared to the oxygenated state. Hypoxia significantly increases shear-induced RBC deformability. RBCs could regulate their own mechanical properties in blood flow by increasing their deformability in hypoxic conditions. Computational tools can be applied for defining hypoxia-mediated RBC deformability changes to monitor blood flow in hypoxic tissues.

Original publication




Journal article


Front physiol

Publication Date





computational fluid dynamics, deformability, hypoxia, oxygenation, pulsatile blood flow, red blood cell