Vasodilatory mechanisms in contracting skeletal muscle

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2004 Jul;97(1):393-403. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00179.2004.


Skeletal muscle blood flow is closely coupled to metabolic demand, and its regulation is believed to be mainly the result of the interplay of neural vasoconstrictor activity and locally derived vasoactive substances. Muscle blood flow is increased within the first second after a single contraction and stabilizes within approximately 30 s during dynamic exercise under normal conditions. Vasodilator substances may be released from contracting skeletal muscle, vascular endothelium, or red blood cells. The importance of specific vasodilators is likely to vary over the time course of flow, from the initial rapid rise to the sustained elevation during steady-state exercise. Exercise hyperemia is therefore thought to be the result of an integrated response of more than one vasodilator mechanism. To date, the identity of vasoactive substances involved in the regulation of exercise hyperemia remains uncertain. Numerous vasodilators such as adenosine, ATP, potassium, hypoxia, hydrogen ion, nitric oxide, prostanoids, and endothelium-derived hyperpolarizing factor have been proposed to be of importance; however, there is little support for any single vasodilator being essential for exercise hyperemia. Because elevated blood flow cannot be explained by the failure of any single vasodilator, a consensus is beginning to emerge for redundancy among vasodilators, where one vasoactive compound may take over when the formation of another is compromised. Conducted vasodilation or flow-mediated vasodilation may explain dilation in vessels (i.e., feed arteries) not directly exposed to vasodilator substances in the interstitium. Future investigations should focus on identifying novel vasodilators and the interaction between vasodilators by simultaneous inhibition of multiple vasodilator pathways.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Hyperemia / physiopathology
  • Kinetics
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / blood supply*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Vasodilation / physiology*