The cutaneous microcirculation

J Investig Dermatol Symp Proc. 2000 Dec;5(1):3-9. doi: 10.1046/j.1087-0024.2000.00010.x.


The cutaneous microcirculation is organized as two horizontal plexuses. One is situated 1-1.5 mm below the skin surface and the other is at the dermal-subcutaneous junction. Ascending arterioles and descending venules are paired as they connect the two plexuses. From the upper layer, arterial capillaries rise to form the dermal papillary loops that represent the nutritive component of the skin circulation. There are sphincter-like smooth muscle cells at the point where the ascending arterioles divide to form the arteriolar component of the upper horizontal plexus. At the dermal-subcutaneous junction, there are collecting veins with two cusped valves that are oriented to prevent the retrograde flow of blood. Laser Doppler flowmetry has demonstrated vasomotion of red cell flux localized to the sites of ascending arterioles. The simultaneous recording by laser Doppler flowmetry of red cell flux and the concentration of moving red blood cells from individual sites allows one to construct topographic maps of these two values. These two maps, based on initial studies using correlative skin biopsies, can define 1 mm3 volumes of skin that are predominantly arteriolar in composition, venular in composition, or essentially devoid of all microvascular elements. The electron and light microscopic features that define the microvascular segments, when coupled with that ability of laser Doppler flowmetry to define the predominant microvascular segments under the probe, allow one to study both the mechanisms of normal physiologic states and the pathogenetic mechanisms underlying pathologic skin disorders in which the microvasculature plays a predominant role.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Laser-Doppler Flowmetry
  • Microcirculation / physiology
  • Skin / blood supply*
  • Skin Diseases / physiopathology