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J Theor Biol. 2008 May 21;252(2):313-25. doi: 10.1016/j.jtbi.2008.01.013. Epub 2008 Jan 26.

The effects of spatial inhomogeneities on flow through the endothelial surface layer.

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Department of Mathematics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA.


Flow through the endothelial surface layer (the glycocalyx and adsorbed plasma proteins) plays an important but poorly understood role in cell signaling through a process known as mechanotransduction. Characterizing the flow rates and shear stresses throughout this layer is critical for understanding how flow-induced ionic currents, deformations of transmembrane proteins, and the convection of extracellular molecules signal biochemical events within the cell, including cytoskeletal rearrangements, gene activation, and the release of vasodilators. Previous mathematical models of flow through the endothelial surface layer are based upon the assumptions that the layer is of constant hydraulic permeability and constant height. These models also assume that the layer is continuous across the endothelium and that the layer extends into only a small portion of the vessel lumen. Results of these models predict that fluid shear stress is dissipated through the surface layer and is thus negligible near endothelial cell membranes. In this paper, such assumptions are removed, and the resultant flow rates and shear stresses through the layer are described. The endothelial surface layer is modeled as clumps of a Brinkman medium immersed in a Newtonian fluid. The width and spacing of each clump, hydraulic permeability, and fraction of the vessel lumen occupied by the layer are varied. The two-dimensional Navier-Stokes equations with an additional Brinkman resistance term are solved using a projection method. Several fluid shear stress transitions in which the stress at the membrane shifts from low to high values are described. These transitions could be significant to cell signaling since the endothelial surface layer is likely dynamic in its composition, density, and height.

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