Regulation of blood flow in the microcirculation

Microcirculation. Jan-Feb 2005;12(1):33-45. doi: 10.1080/10739680590895028.


The regulation of blood flow has rich history of investigation and is exemplified in exercising skeletal muscle by a concerted interaction between striated muscle fibers and their microvascular supply. This review considers blood flow control in light of the regulation of capillary perfusion by and among terminal arterioles, the distribution of blood flow in arteriolar networks according to metabolic and hemodynamic feedback from active muscle fibers, and the balance between peak muscle blood flow and arterial blood pressure governed by sympathetic nerve activity. As metabolic demand increases,the locus of regulating oxygen delivery to muscle fibers "ascends" from terminal arterioles, through intermediate distributing arterioles, and into the proximal arterioles and feed arteries, which govern total flow into a muscle. At multiple levels, venules are positioned to provide feedback to nearby arterioles regarding the metabolic state of the tissue through the convection, production and diffusion of vasodilator stimuli. Electrical signals initiated on microvascular smooth muscle and endothelial cells can travel rapidly for millimeters through cell-to-cell conduction via gap junction channels, rapidly coordinating vasodilator responses that govern the distribution and magnitude of blood flow to active muscle fibers. Sympathetic constriction of proximal arterioles and feed arteries can restrict functional hyperemia while dilation prevails in distal arterioles to promote oxygen extraction. With vasomotor tone reflecting myogenic contraction of smooth muscle cells modulated by shear stress on the endothelium, the initiation of functional vasodilation and its modulation by sympathetic innervation dictate how and where blood flow is distributed in response to metabolic demand. A remarkable ensemble of signaling pathways underlies the integration of smooth muscle and endothelial cell function in microvascular networks. These pathways are being defined with refreshing new insight as novel approaches are applied to understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms of blood flow control.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood Flow Velocity
  • Blood Pressure
  • Humans
  • Microcirculation / metabolism
  • Microcirculation / physiology*
  • Oxygen / metabolism
  • Vasomotor System / physiology*


  • Oxygen