To elucidate the hepatic microvascular response upon the hepatic arterial buffer response (HABR), we analysed blood flow (ultrasonic flowprobes) of the hepatic artery (HA) and portal vein (PV), microcirculation (intravital microscopy), and tissue oxygenation (polarography) in anaesthetized Sprague-Dawley rats and re-evaluated the role of adenosine in mediating the HABR by using 8-phenyltheophylline as a competitive antagonist. 2. Upon restriction of PV blood flow to 11 +/- 3 % of baseline values, HA blood flow increased by a factor of 1.77 (P < 0.05), thus confirming HABR. Strikingly, red blood cell velocity and volumetric blood flow in terminal hepatic arterioles (THAs) did not increase but were even found to be slightly decreased, by 8 and 13 %, respectively. In contrast, red blood cell velocity and volumetric blood flow in terminal portal venules (TPVs) decreased to only 66 % (P < 0.05), indicating upstream hepatic arteriolo-portal venular shunting. As a consequence, red blood cell velocity and volumetric blood flow in sinusoids were found to be reduced to only 66-68 % compared with baseline (P < 0.05). Diameters of neither of those microvessels changed, thus excluding THA-, TPV-, and sinusoid-associated mechanisms of vasomotor control in HABR. 3. Tissue PO2 and hepatocellular NADH fluorescence remained unchanged, indicating HABR-mediated maintenance of adequate oxygen delivery, despite the marked reduction of total liver blood flow. Further, hepatic arteriolo-portal venular shunting guaranteed homogeneity of nutritive blood flow upon HABR, as given by an unchanged intra-acinar coefficient of variance of sinusoidal perfusion. 4. Pretreatment of animals with the adenosine antagonist 8-phenyltheophylline completely blocked the hepatic arterial buffer response with the consequence of decreased tissue oxygenation and increased heterogeneity of sinusoidal perfusion. 5. In conclusion, hepatic microhaemodynamics, in particular unchanged diameters of THAs, TPVs and sinusoids, during HABR indicate that reduction in resistance to HA flow is located upstream and functions via hepatic arteriolo-portal venular shunts resulting in equal distribution of microvascular blood flow and oxygen delivery under conditions of restricted PV blood supply.