Evolution and rupture of vulnerable plaques: a review of mechanical effects
Pauline Assemat, Kerry Hourigan
Fluids Laboratory for Aeronautical and Industrial Research (FLAIR), Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Division of Biological Engineering, Monash University, Melbourne, VIC, Australia
Abstract: Atherosclerosis occurs as a result of the buildup and infiltration of lipid streaks in artery walls, leading to plaques. Understanding the development of atherosclerosis and plaque vulnerability is of critical importance, since plaque rupture can result in heart attack or stroke. Plaques can be divided into two distinct types: those that rupture (vulnerable) and those that are less likely to rupture (stable). In the last few decades, researchers have been interested in studying the influence of the mechanical effects (blood shear stress, pressure forces, and structural stress) on the plaque formation and rupture processes. In the literature, physiological experimental studies are limited by the complexity of in vivo experiments to study such effects, whereas the numerical approach often uses simplified models compared with realistic conditions, so that no general agreement of the mechanisms responsible for plaque formation has yet been reached. In addition, in a large number of cases, the presence of plaques in arteries is asymptomatic. The prediction of plaque rupture remains a complex question to elucidate, not only because of the interaction of numerous phenomena involved in this process (biological, chemical, and mechanical) but also because of the large time scale on which plaques develop. The purpose of the present article is to review the current mechanical models used to describe the blood flow in arteries in the presence of plaques, as well as reviewing the literature treating the influence of mechanical effects on plaque formation, development, and rupture. Finally, some directions of research, including those being undertaken by the authors, are described.
Keywords: atherosclerosis, rupture prediction, wall shear stress, structural stress, vulnerable plaques
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