The perfusion of the liver microcirculation is often analyzed in terms of idealized functional units (hexagonal liver lobules) based on a porous medium approach. More elaborate research is essential to assess the validity of this approach and to provide a more adequate and quantitative characterization of the liver microcirculation. To this end, we modeled the perfusion of the liver microcirculation using an image-based three-dimensional (3D) reconstruction of human liver sinusoids and computational fluid dynamics techniques. After vascular corrosion casting, a microvascular sample (±0.134 mm3) representing three liver lobules, was dissected from a human liver vascular replica and scanned using a high resolution (2.6 μm) micro-CT scanner. Following image processing, a cube (0.15 × 0.15 × 0.15 mm3) representing a sample of intertwined and interconnected sinusoids, was isolated from the 3D reconstructed dataset to define the fluid domain. Three models were studied to simulate flow along three orthogonal directions (i.e., parallel to the central vein and in the radial and circumferential directions of the lobule). Inflow and outflow guidances were added to facilitate solution convergence, and good quality volume meshes were obtained using approximately 9 × 106 tetrahedral cells. Subsequently, three computational fluid dynamics models were generated and solved assuming Newtonian liquid properties (viscosity 3.5 mPa s). Post-processing allowed to visualize and quantify the microvascular flow characteristics, to calculate the permeability tensor and corresponding principal permeability axes, as well as the 3D porosity. The computational fluid dynamics simulations provided data on pressure differences, preferential flow pathways and wall shear stresses. Notably, the pressure difference resulting from the flow simulation parallel to the central vein (0–100 Pa) was clearly smaller than the difference from the radial (0–170 Pa) and circumferential (0–180 Pa) flow directions. This resulted in a higher permeability along the central vein direction (kd,33 = 3.64 × 10−14 m2) in comparison with the radial (kd,11 = 1.56 × 10−14 m2) and circumferential (kd,22 = 1.75 × 10−14 m2) permeabilities which were approximately equal. The mean 3D porosity was 14.3. Our data indicate that the human hepatic microcirculation is characterized by a higher permeability along the central vein direction, and an about two times lower permeability along the radial and circumferential directions of a lobule. Since the permeability coefficients depend on the flow direction, (porous medium) liver microcirculation models should take into account sinusoidal anisotropy.

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