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Mechanical response of red blood cells entering a constriction

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Most work on the dynamic response of red blood cells (RBCs) to hydrodynamic stress has focused on linear velocity profiles. Relatively little experimental work has examined how individual RBCs respond to pressure driven flow in more complex geometries, such as the flow at the entrance of a capillary. Here, we establish the mechanical behaviors of healthy RBCs undergoing a sudden increase in shear stress at the entrance of a narrow constriction. We pumped RBCs through a constriction in a microfluidic device and used high speed video to visualize and track the flow behavior of more than 4400 RBCs. We show that approximately 85% of RBCs undergo one of four distinct modes of motion: stretching, twisting, tumbling, or rolling. Intriguingly, a plurality of cells (∼30%) exhibited twisting (rotation around the major axis parallel to the flow direction), a mechanical behavior that is not typically observed in linear velocity profiles. We present detailed statistical analyses on the dynamics of each motion and demonstrate that the behavior is highly sensitive to the location of the RBC within the channel. We further demonstrate that the observed tumbling, twisting, and rolling rotations can be rationalized qualitatively in terms of rigid body mechanics. The detailed experimental statistics presented here should serve as a useful resource for modeling of RBC behavior under physiologically important flow conditions.

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