Ultrasound elastography produces strain images of compliant tissues under quasi-static compression. In axial-shear strain elastography, the local axial-shear strain resulting from application of quasi-static axial compression to an inhomogeneous material is imaged. The overall hypothesis of this work is that the pattern of axial-shear strain distribution around the inclusion/background interface is completely determined by the bonding at the interface after normalization for inclusion size and applied strain levels, and that it is feasible to extract certain features from the axial-shear strain elastograms to quantify this pattern. The mechanical model used in this study consisted of a single stiff circular inclusion embedded in a homogeneous softer background. First, we performed a parametric study using finite-element analysis (FEA) (no ultrasound involved) to identify possible features that quantify the pattern of axial-shear strain distribution around an inclusion/background interface. Next, the ability to extract these features from axial-shear strain elastograms, estimated from simulated pre- and post-compression noisy RF data, was investigated. Further, the feasibility of extracting these features from in vivo breast data of benign and malignant tumors was also investigated. It is shown using the FEA study that the pattern of axial-shear strain distribution is determined by the degree of bonding at the inclusion/background interface. The results suggest the feasibility of using normalized features that capture the region of positive and negative axial-shear strain area to quantify the pattern of the axial-shear strain distribution. The simulation results showed that it was feasible to extract the features, as identified in the FEA study, from axial-shear strain elastograms. However, an effort must be made to obtain axial-shear strain elastograms with the highest signal-to-noise ratio (SNR asse) possible, without compromising the resolution. The in vivo results demonstrated the feasibility of producing and extracting features from the axial-shear strain elastograms from breast data. Furthermore, the in vivo axial-shear strain elastograms suggest an additional feature not identified in the simulations that may potentially be used for distinguishing benign from malignant tumors - the proximity of the axial-shear strain regions to the inclusion/background interface identified in the sonogram. © 2007 IOP Publishing Ltd.