Role of alveolar topology on acinar flows and convective mixing

J Biomech Eng. 2014 Jun;136(6):061007. doi: 10.1115/1.4027328.


Due to experimental challenges, computational simulations are often sought to quantify inhaled aerosol transport in the pulmonary acinus. Commonly, these are performed using generic alveolar topologies, including spheres, toroids, and polyhedra, to mimic the complex acinar morphology. Yet, local acinar flows and ensuing particle transport are anticipated to be influenced by the specific morphological structures. We have assessed a range of acinar models under self-similar breathing conditions with respect to alveolar flow patterns, convective flow mixing, and deposition of fine particles (1.3 μm diameter). By tracking passive tracers over cumulative breathing cycles, we find that irreversible flow mixing correlates with the location and strength of the recirculating vortex inside the cavity. Such effects are strongest in proximal acinar generations where the ratio of alveolar to ductal flow rates is low and interalveolar disparities are most apparent. Our results for multi-alveolated acinar ducts highlight that fine 1 μm inhaled particles subject to alveolar flows are sensitive to the alveolar topology, underlining interalveolar disparities in particle deposition patterns. Despite the simplicity of the acinar models investigated, our findings suggest that alveolar topologies influence more significantly local flow patterns and deposition sites of fine particles for upper generations emphasizing the importance of the selected acinar model. In distal acinar generations, however, the alveolar geometry primarily needs to mimic the space-filling alveolar arrangement dictated by lung morphology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acinar Cells / cytology*
  • Air*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Mechanical Phenomena*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Motion*
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / cytology*
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / physiology*
  • Respiration