We have investigated the feasibility of monitoring local skeletal muscle blood flow in the rat by including ethanol in the perfusion medium passing through a microdialysis probe placed in muscle tissue. Ethanol at 5, 55, or 1100 mM did not directly influence local muscle metabolism, as measured by dialysate glucose, lactate, and glycerol concentrations. The clearance of ethanol from the perfusion medium can be described by the outflow/inflow ratio ([ethanol]collected dialysate/[ethanol]infused perfusion medium), which was found to be similar (between 0.36 and 0.38) at all ethanol perfusion concentrations studied. With probes inserted in a flow-chamber, this ratio changed in a flow-dependent way in the external flow range of 5-20 microliters min-1. The ethanol outflow/inflow ratio in vivo was significantly (P less than 0.001) increased (to a maximum of 127 +/- 2.8% and 144 +/- 7.4% of the baseline, mean +/- SEM) when blood flow was reduced by either leg constriction or local vasopressin administration, and significantly (P less than 0.001) reduced (to 62 +/- 6.4% and 43 +/- 4.4% of baseline) with increases in blood flow during external heating or local 2-chloroadenosine administration, respectively. Dialysate glucose concentrations correlated negatively with the ethanol outflow/inflow ratio (P less than 0.01) and consequently decreased (to 46 +/- 7.6% and 56 +/- 5.6% of baseline) with constriction and vasopressin administration and increased (to 169 +/- 32.5% and 262 +/- 16.7% of baseline) following heating and 2-chloroadenosine administration. Dialysate lactate concentrations were significantly increased (approximately 2-fold, P less than 0.001) during all perturbations of blood flow. In conclusion, this technique makes it possible to monitor changes in skeletal muscle blood flow; however, methods of quantification remain to be established. The fact that blood flow changes were found to significantly affect interstitial glucose and lactate concentrations as revealed by microdialysis indicates that this information is critical in microdialysis experiments.