Original Paper

Biomechanics and Modeling in Mechanobiology

, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 339-355

First online:

Mechanistic insight into the physiological relevance of helical blood flow in the human aorta: an in vivo study

  • Umberto MorbiducciAffiliated withDepartment of Mechanics, Politecnico di Torino Email author 
  • , Raffaele PonziniAffiliated withCILEA, Interuniversity Consortium
  • , Giovanna RizzoAffiliated withIstituto di Bioimmagini e Fisiologia Molecolare, Research National Council
  • , Marcello CadioliAffiliated withPhilips Medical Systems
  • , Antonio EspositoAffiliated withDepartment of Radiology, Scientific Institute H S Raffaele
  • , Franco Maria MontevecchiAffiliated withDepartment of Mechanics, Politecnico di Torino
  • , Alberto RedaelliAffiliated withDepartment of Bioengineering, Politecnico di Milano

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


The hemodynamics within the aorta of five healthy humans were investigated to gain insight into the complex helical flow patterns that arise from the existence of asymmetries in the aortic region. The adopted approach is aimed at (1) overcoming the relative paucity of quantitative data regarding helical blood flow dynamics in the human aorta and (2) identifying common characteristics in physiological aortic flow topology, in terms of its helical content. Four-dimensional phase-contrast magnetic resonance imaging (4D PC MRI) was combined with algorithms for the calculation of advanced fluid dynamics in this study. These algorithms allowed us to obtain a 4D representation of intra-aortic flow fields and to quantify the aortic helical flow. For our purposes, helicity was used as a measure of the alignment of the velocity and the vorticity. There were two key findings of our study: (1) intra-individual analysis revealed a statistically significant difference in the helical content at different phases of systole and (2) group analysis suggested that aortic helical blood flow dynamics is an emerging behavior that is common to normal individuals. Our results also suggest that helical flow might be caused by natural optimization of fluid transport processes in the cardiovascular system, aimed at obtaining efficient perfusion. The approach here applied to assess in vivo helical blood flow could be the starting point to elucidate the role played by helicity in the generation and decay of rotating flows in the thoracic aorta.


4D phase-contrast MRI Perfusion Spiral flow Fluid mechanics Aortic arch Hemodynamics