Annals of Biomedical Engineering

, Volume 41, Issue 5, pp 1049-1061

First online:

Vortices Formed on the Mitral Valve Tips Aid Normal Left Ventricular Filling

  • John J. CharonkoAffiliated withDepartment of Mechanical Engineering, Virginia Tech
  • , Rahul KumarAffiliated withDepartment of Cardiology, Wake Forest School of Medicine
  • , Kelley StewartAffiliated withDepartment of Mechanical Engineering, Virginia TechDepartment of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, The George Washington University
  • , William C. LittleAffiliated withDepartment of Cardiology, Wake Forest School of Medicine
  • , Pavlos P. VlachosAffiliated withDepartment of Mechanical Engineering, Virginia Tech Email author 

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For the left ventricle (LV) to function as an effective pump it must be able to fill from a low left atrial pressure. However, this ability is lost in patients with heart failure. We investigated LV filling by measuring the cardiac blood flow using 2D phase contrast magnetic resonance imaging and quantified the intraventricular pressure gradients and the strength and location of vortices. In normal subjects, blood flows towards the apex prior to the mitral valve opening, and the mitral annulus moves rapidly away after the valve opens, with both effects enhancing the vortex ring at the mitral valve tips. Instead of being a passive by-product of the process as was previously believed, this ring facilitates filling by reducing convective losses and enhancing the function of the LV as a suction pump. The virtual channel thus created by the vortices may help insure efficient mass transfer for the left atrium to the LV apex. Impairment of this mechanism contributes to diastolic dysfunction, with LV filling becoming dependent on left atrial pressure, which can lead to eventual heart failure. Better understanding of the mechanics of this progression may lead to more accurate diagnosis and treatment of this disease.


Left ventricle filling Heart failure Vortex formation Phase contrast MRI