Red blood cell mechanics and capillary blood rheology

Cell Biophys. 1991 Jun;18(3):231-51. doi: 10.1007/BF02989816.


Blood contains a high vol fraction of erythrocytes (red blood cells), which strongly influence its flow properties. Much is known about the mechanical properties of red cells, providing a basis for understanding and predicting the rheological behavior of blood in terms of the behavior of individual red cells. This review describes quantitative theoretical models that relate red cell mechanics to flow properties of blood in capillaries. Red cells often flow in single file in capillaries, and rheological parameters can then be estimated by analyzing the motion and deformation of an individual red cell and the surrounding plasma in a capillary. The analysis may be simplified by using lubrication theory to approximate the plasma flow in the narrow gaps between the cells and the vessels walls. If red cell shapes are assumed to be axisymmetric, apparent viscosities are predicted that agree with determinations in glass capillaries. Red cells flowing in microvessels typically assume nonaxisymmetric shapes, with cyclic "tank-treading" motion of the membrane around the interior. Several analyses have been carried out that take these effects into account. These analyses indicate that nonaxisymmetry and tank-treading do not significantly influence the flow resistance in single-file or two-file flow.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Capillaries / physiology*
  • Erythrocytes / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Mathematics
  • Models, Biological
  • Regional Blood Flow
  • Rheology