Local Strain Distribution in Real Three-Dimensional Alveolar Geometries

  • S. M. K. RauschEmail author
  • D. Haberthür
  • M. Stampanoni
  • J. C. Schittny
  • W. A. WallEmail author


Mechanical ventilation is not only a life saving treatment but can also cause negative side effects. One of the main complications is inflammation caused by overstretching of the alveolar tissue. Previously, studies investigated either global strains or looked into which states lead to inflammatory reactions in cell cultures. However, the connection between the global deformation, of a tissue strip or the whole organ, and the strains reaching the single cells lining the alveolar walls is unknown and respective studies are still missing. The main reason for this is most likely the complex, sponge-like alveolar geometry, whose three-dimensional details have been unknown until recently. Utilizing synchrotron-based X-ray tomographic microscopy, we were able to generate real and detailed three-dimensional alveolar geometries on which we have performed finite-element simulations. This allowed us to determine, for the first time, a three-dimensional strain state within the alveolar wall. Briefly, precision-cut lung slices, prepared from isolated rat lungs, were scanned and segmented to provide a three-dimensional geometry. This was then discretized using newly developed tetrahedral elements. The main conclusions of this study are that the local strain in the alveolar wall can reach a multiple of the value of the global strain, for our simulations up to four times as high and that thin structures obviously cause hotspots that are especially at risk of overstretching.


Alveoli Finite-element method Local strains Synchrotron-based X-ray tomographic microscopy 



Support by the German Science Foundation/Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft DFG and the TUM Graduate School is gratefully acknowledged. We also gratefully acknowledge the help of Christian Martin and Stefan Uhlig for providing us with the PCLSs.


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Copyright information

© Biomedical Engineering Society 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Computational MechanicsTechnische Universität MünchenGarchingGermany
  2. 2.Institute of AnatomyUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland
  3. 3.Swiss Light SourcePaul Scherrer InstitutVillingenSwitzerland
  4. 4.Institute for Biomedical Engineering, University and ETH ZürichZurichSwitzerland

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