Damage to the blood vessel triggers formation of a hemostatic plug, which is meant to prevent bleeding, yet the same phenomenon may result in a total blockade of a blood vessel by a thrombus, causing severe medical conditions. Here, we show that the physical interplay between platelet adhesion and hemodynamics in a microchannel manifests in a critical threshold behavior of a growing thrombus. Depending on the size of injury, two distinct dynamic pathways of thrombosis were found: the formation of a nonocclusive plug, if injury length does not exceed the critical value, and the total occlusion of the vessel by the thrombus otherwise. We develop a mathematical model that demonstrates that switching between these regimes occurs as a result of a saddle-node bifurcation. Our study reveals the mechanism of self-regulation of thrombosis in blood microvessels and explains experimentally observed distinctions between thrombi of different physical etiology. This also can be useful for the design of platelet-aggregation-inspired engineering solutions.
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