Assessing Airflow Sensitivity to Healthy and Diseased Lung Conditions in a Computational Fluid Dynamics Model Validated In Vitro

J Biomech Eng. 2018 May 1;140(5). doi: 10.1115/1.4038896.


Computational models are useful for understanding respiratory physiology. Crucial to such models are the boundary conditions specifying the flow conditions at truncated airway branches (terminal flow rates). However, most studies make assumptions about these values, which are difficult to obtain in vivo. We developed a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) model of airflows for steady expiration to investigate how terminal flows affect airflow patterns in respiratory airways. First, we measured in vitro airflow patterns in a physical airway model, using particle image velocimetry (PIV). The measured and computed airflow patterns agreed well, validating our CFD model. Next, we used the lobar flow fractions from a healthy or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) subject as constraints to derive different terminal flow rates (i.e., three healthy and one COPD) and computed the corresponding airflow patterns in the same geometry. To assess airflow sensitivity to the boundary conditions, we used the correlation coefficient of the shape similarity (R) and the root-mean-square of the velocity magnitude difference (Drms) between two velocity contours. Airflow patterns in the central airways were similar across healthy conditions (minimum R, 0.80) despite variations in terminal flow rates but markedly different for COPD (minimum R, 0.26; maximum Drms, ten times that of healthy cases). In contrast, those in the upper airway were similar for all cases. Our findings quantify how variability in terminal and lobar flows contributes to airflow patterns in respiratory airways. They highlight the importance of using lobar flow fractions to examine physiologically relevant airflow characteristics.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Air*
  • Computer Simulation*
  • Hydrodynamics*
  • Kinetics
  • Lung / physiology*
  • Lung / physiopathology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / physiopathology*
  • Reproducibility of Results