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Arteriosclerosis. 1985 May-Jun;5(3):293-302.

Pulsatile flow and atherosclerosis in the human carotid bifurcation. Positive correlation between plaque location and low oscillating shear stress.


Fluid velocities were measured by laser Doppler velocimetry under conditions of pulsatile flow in a scale model of the human carotid bifurcation. Flow velocity and wall shear stress at five axial and four circumferential positions were compared with intimal plaque thickness at corresponding locations in carotid bifurcations obtained from cadavers. Velocities and wall shear stresses during diastole were similar to those found previously under steady flow conditions, but these quantities oscillated in both magnitude and direction during the systolic phase. At the inner wall of the internal carotid sinus, in the region of the flow divider, wall shear stress was highest (systole = 41 dynes/cm2, diastole = 10 dynes/cm2, mean = 17 dynes/cm2) and remained unidirectional during systole. Intimal thickening in this location was minimal. At the outer wall of the carotid sinus where intimal plaques were thickest, mean shear stress was low (-0.5 dynes/cm2) but the instantaneous shear stress oscillated between -7 and +4 dynes/cm2. Along the side walls of the sinus, intimal plaque thickness was greater than in the region of the flow divider and circumferential oscillations of shear stress were prominent. With all 20 axial and circumferential measurement locations considered, strong correlations were found between intimal thickness and the reciprocal of maximum shear stress (r = 0.90, p less than 0.0005) or the reciprocal of mean shear stress (r = 0.82, p less than 0.001). An index which takes into account oscillations of wall shear also correlated strongly with intimal thickness (r = 0.82, p less than 0.001). When only the inner wall and outer wall positions were taken into account, correlations of lesion thickness with the inverse of maximum wall shear and mean wall shear were 0.94 (p less than 0.001) and 0.95 (p less than 0.001), respectively, and with the oscillatory shear index, 0.93 (p less than 0.001). These studies confirm earlier findings under steady flow conditions that plaques tend to form in areas of low, rather than high, shear stress, but indicate in addition that marked oscillations in the direction of wall shear may enhance atherogenesis.

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