Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Biomedical Engineering

First Advisor

Dr. Hainsworth Y. Shin

Second Advisor

Dr. Charles F. Knapp


Hypercholesterolemia is a dominant risk factor for a variety of cardiovascular diseases and involves a chronic inflammatory component in which neutrophil activity plays a critical role. Recently, fluid shear stress mechanotransduction has been established as a control mechanism that regulates the activity of neutrophils by reducing the formation of pseudopods and the surface expression of CD18 integrins, thereby rendering these cells rounded, deformable, and non-adhesive. This is critical for maintaining a healthy circulation, because chronically activated neutrophils not only release excess cytotoxic and degradative agents but also exhibit a reduced efficiency to pass through the small vessels of the microcirculation leading to increased microvascular resistance. We hypothesized that aberrant neutrophil mechanosensitivity to fluid shear stress due to the altered blood environment (i.e., excess plasma cholesterol) is a contributing factor for elevated hemodynamic resistance in the microcirculation associated with hypercholesterolemia. For this purpose, the present work firstly showed that the sensitivity of neutrophils to fluid shear stress depends on the cholesterol-dependent fluidity of the cell membrane, and that, in the face of hypercholesterolemia, the neutrophil mechanosensitivity highly correlated with the plasma levels of free cholesterol. The second part of this project demonstrated that, when subjected to shear stress fields, leukocyte suspensions exhibited transient (within 10 min of flow onset) time-dependent reductions in their apparent viscosity. Moreover, shear-induced changes in viscosity of cell suspensions were influenced by disturbances of membrane cholesterol and fluidity in a fashion similar to that for shear-induced pseudopod retraction. Finally, the third part of this work provided evidence that neutrophils played a role in hypercholesterolemia-related impairment of flow recovery response to transient ischemia. In conclusion, results of the current work provided the first evidence that cholesterol is an important component of the neutrophil mechanotransducing capacity and impaired neutrophil shear mechanotransduction may disturb the blood flow rheology, leading to elevations in the apparent viscosity as well as in the resistance. This cholesterol-linked perturbation may be a contributing factor for the pathologic microcirculation associated with hypercholesterolemia.