The basilar artery is one of the three vessels providing the blood supply to the human brain. It arises from the confluence of the two vertebral arteries. In fact, it is the only artery of this size in the human body arising from a confluence instead of a bifurcation. Earlier work, concerning flow computations in simplified models of the basilar artery, has demonstrated that a junction causes distinctive flow phenomena. This paper presents three-dimensional finite-element computations of steady viscous flow in a rigid symmetrical junction geometry representing the anatomical situation in a more realistic way. The geometry consists of two round tubes merging into a single round outlet tube. The Reynolds number for the basilar artery ranges from 200 to 600, and both symmetrical and asymmetrical inflow from the two inlet tubes has been considered.
Just downstream of the confluence a ‘double hump’ axial velocity profile is found. In the transition zone the flow pattern appears to have a complicated structure. In the symmetrical case the axial velocity profile shows a sharp central ridge, whereas in the asymmetrical case the highest ‘hump’ crosses the centreline of the tube. The flow has a highly three-dimensional character with secondary velocities easily exceeding 25% of the mean axial flow velocity. The secondary flow pattern consists of four vortices. Under all simulated flow conditions, the inlet length turns out to be much larger than the average length of the human basilar artery.
To validate the computational model, a comparison is made between numerical and experimental results for a junction geometry consisting of tubes with a rectangular cross-section. The experiments have been performed in a Perspex model with laser Doppler velocimetry and dye injection techniques. Good agreement between experimental and computational results is found. Moreover, all essential flow phenomena turn out to be quite similar to those obtained for the circular tube geometry.