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Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2003 May;284(5):H1848-57. Epub 2003 Jan 16.

Branching tree model with fractal vascular resistance explains fractal perfusion heterogeneity.

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Department of Medical Biophysics, Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Centre, University of Toronto, S605-2075 Bayview Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M4N 3M5.


Perfusion heterogeneities in organs such as the heart obey a power law as a function of scale, a behavior termed "fractal." An explanation of why vascular systems produce such a specific perfusion pattern is still lacking. An intuitive branching tree model is presented that reveals how this behavior can be generated as a consequence of scale-independent branching asymmetry and fractal vessel resistance. Comparison of computer simulations to experimental data from the sheep heart shows that the values of the two free model parameters are realistic. Branching asymmetry within the model is defined by the relative tissue volume being fed by each branch. Vessel ordering for fractal analysis of morphology based on fed or drained tissue volumes is preferable to the commonly used Strahler system, which is shown to depend on branching asymmetry. Recently, noninvasive imaging techniques such as PET and MRI have been used to measure perfusion heterogeneity. The model allows a physiological interpretation of the measured fractal parameters, which could in turn be used to characterize vascular morphology and function.

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