Distributed models of blood-tissue exchange are widely used to measure kinetic events of various solutes from multiple tracer dilution experiments. Their use requires, however, a careful description of blood flow heterogeneity along the capillary bed. Since they have mostly been applied in animal studies, direct measurement of the heterogeneity distribution was possible, e.g., with the invasive microsphere method. Here we apply distributed modeling to a dual tracer experiment in humans, performed using an intravascular (indocyanine green dye, subject to distribution along the vascular tree and confined to the capillary bed) and an extracellular ([3H]-D-mannitol, tracing passive transcapillary transfer across the capillary membrane in the interstitial fluid) tracer. The goal is to measure relevant parameters of transcapillary exchange in human skeletal muscle. We show that assuming an accurate description of blood flow heterogeneity is crucial for modeling, and in particular that assuming for skeletal muscle the well-studied cardiac muscle blood flow heterogeneity is inappropriate. The same reason prevents the use of the common method of estimating the input function of the distributed model via deconvolution, which assumes a known blood flow heterogeneity, either defined from literature or measured, when possible. We present a novel approach for the estimation of blood flow heterogeneity in each individual from the intravascular tracer data. When this newly estimated blood flow heterogeneity is used, a more satisfactory model fit is obtained and it is possible to reliably measure parameters of capillary membrane permeability-surface product and interstitial fluid volume describing transcapillary transfer in vivo.
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