Red blood cell lingering modulates hematocrit distribution in the microcirculation

Yazdan Rashidi*, Greta Simionato, Qi Zhou, Thomas John, Alexander Kihm, Mohammed Bendaoud, Timm Krüger, Miguel O. Bernabeu, Lars Kaestner, Matthias W. Laschke, Michael D. Menger, Christian Wagner, Alexis Darras*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The distribution of red blood cells (RBCs) in the microcirculation determines the oxygen delivery and solute transport to tissues. This process relies on the partitioning of RBCs at successive bifurcations throughout the microvascular network, and it has been known since the last century that RBCs partition disproportionately to the fractional blood flow rate, therefore leading to heterogeneity of the hematocrit (i.e., volume fraction of RBCs in blood) in microvessels. Usually, downstream of a microvascular bifurcation, the vessel branch with a higher fraction of blood flow receives an even higher fraction of RBC flux. However, both temporal and time-average deviations from this phase-separation law have been observed in recent studies. Here, we quantify how the microscopic behavior of RBC lingering (i.e., RBCs temporarily residing near the bifurcation apex with diminished velocity) influences their partitioning, through combined in vivo experiments and in silico simulations. We developed an approach to quantify the cell lingering at highly confined capillary-level bifurcations and demonstrate that it correlates with deviations of the phase-separation process from established empirical predictions by Pries et al. Furthermore, we shed light on how the bifurcation geometry and cell membrane rigidity can affect the lingering behavior of RBCs; e.g., rigid cells tend to linger less than softer ones. Taken together, RBC lingering is an important mechanism that should be considered when studying how abnormal RBC rigidity in diseases such as malaria and sickle-cell disease could hinder the microcirculatory blood flow or how the vascular networks are altered under pathological conditions (e.g., thrombosis, tumors, aneurysm).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1526-1537
JournalBiophysical Journal
Issue number8
Early online date17 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - 18 Apr 2023


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