Blood flow patterns in the proximal human coronary arteries: relationship to atherosclerotic plaque occurrence

Mol Cell Biomech. 2008 Mar;5(1):9-18.


Atherosclerotic plaques in human coronary arteries are focal manifestations of systemic disease, and biomechanical factors have been hypothesized to contribute to plaque genesis and localization. We developed a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) model of the ascending aorta and proximal sections of the right and left coronary arteries of a normal human subject using computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and determined the pulsatile flow field. Results demonstrate that flow patterns in the ascending aorta contribute to a pro-atherosclerotic flow environment, specifically through localization of low and oscillatory wall shear stress in the neighborhood of coronary orifices. Furthermore, these patterns differ in their spatial distribution between right and left coronary arteries. Entrance effects of aortic flow diminish within two vessel diameters. We examined relationships between spatial distributions of wall shear stress and reports of plaque occurrence in the literature. Results indicate low wall shear stress is co-located with increased incidence of lesions, and higher wall shear stresses are associated with lesion-resistant areas. This investigation does not consider plaque progression or advanced lesions, inasmuch as the CFD model was developed from a normal individual and the clinical data used for comparisons were obtained from autopsy specimens of subjects who died from non-cardiovascular causes. The data reported are consistent with the hypothesis that low wall shear stress is associated with the localization of atherosclerotic lesions, and the results demonstrate the importance of aortic flow on flow patterns in the proximal segments of the coronary arteries.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Atherosclerosis / pathology*
  • Atherosclerosis / physiopathology*
  • Coronary Circulation / physiology*
  • Coronary Vessels / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Rheology
  • Stress, Mechanical
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed