A continuum model for the unfolding of von Willebrand Factor

von Willebrand Factor is a mechano-sensitive protein circulating in blood that mediates platelet adhesion to subendothelial collagen and platelet aggregation at high shear rates. Its hemostatic function and thrombogenic effect, as well as susceptibility to enzymatic cleavage, are regulated by a conformational change from a collapsed globular state to a stretched state. Therefore, it is essential to account for the conformation of the vWF multimers when modeling vWF-mediated thrombosis or vWF degradation. We introduce a continuum model of vWF unfolding that is developed within the framework of our multi-constituent model of platelet-mediated thrombosis. The model considers two interconvertible vWF species corresponding to the collapsed and stretched conformational states. vWF unfolding takes place via two regimes: tumbling in simple shear and strong unfolding in flows with dominant extensional component. These two regimes were demonstrated in a Couette flow between parallel plates and an extensional flow in a cross-slot geometry. The vWF unfolding model was then verified in several microfluidic systems designed for inducing high-shear vWF-mediated thrombosis and screening for von Willebrand Disease. The model predicted high concentration of stretched vWF in key regions where occlusive thrombosis was observed experimentally. Strong unfolding caused by the extensional flow was limited to the center axis or middle plane of the channels, whereas vWF unfolding near the channel walls relied upon the shear tumbling mechanism. The continuum model of vWF unfolding presented in this work can be employed in numerical simulations of vWF-mediated thrombosis or vWF degradation in complex geometries. However, extending the model to 3-D arbitrary flows and turbulent flows will pose considerable challenges.

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