Cells in 3D matrices under interstitial flow: Effects of extracellular matrix alignment on cell shear stress and drag forces

John A. Pedersen, Seth Lichter, Melody A. Swartz*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


Interstitial flow is an important regulator of various cell behaviors both in vitro and in vivo, yet the forces that fluid flow imposes on cells embedded in a 3D extracellular matrix (ECM), and the effects of matrix architecture on those forces, are not well understood. Here, we demonstrate how fiber alignment can affect the shear and pressure forces on the cell and ECM. Using computational fluid dynamics simulations, we show that while the solutions of the Brinkman equation accurately estimate the average fluid shear stress and the drag forces on a cell within a 3D fibrous medium, the distribution of shear stress on the cellular surface as well as the peak shear stresses remain intimately related to the pericellular fiber architecture and cannot be estimated using bulk-averaged properties. We demonstrate that perpendicular fiber alignment of the ECM yields lower shear stress and pressure forces on the cells and higher stresses on the ECM, leading to decreased permeability, while parallel fiber alignment leads to higher stresses on cells and increased permeability, as compared to a cubic lattice arrangement. The Spielman-Goren permeability relationships for fibrous media agreed well with CFD simulations of flow with explicitly considered fibers. These results suggest that the experimentally observed active remodeling of ECM fibers by fibroblasts under interstitial flow to a perpendicular alignment could serve to decrease the shear and drag forces on the cell.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)900-905
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Biomechanics
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 22 2010


  • Brinkman flow
  • Collagen
  • Computational fluid dynamics
  • Mechanobiology
  • Perfusion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Rehabilitation
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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