Obligatory role of hyperaemia and shear stress in microvascular adaptation to repeated heating in humans

J Physiol. 2010 May 1;588(Pt 9):1571-7. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2010.186965. Epub 2010 Mar 8.


The endothelium, a single layer of cells lining the entire circulatory system, plays a key role in maintaining vascular health. Endothelial dysfunction independently predicts cardiovascular events and improvement in endothelial function is associated with decreased vascular risk. Previous studies have suggested that exercise training improves endothelial function in macrovessels, a benefit mediated via repeated episodic increases in shear stress. However, less is known of the effects of shear stress modulation in microvessels. In the present study we examined the hypothesis that repeated skin heating improves cutaneous microvascular vasodilator function via a shear stress-dependent mechanism. We recruited 10 recreationally active males who underwent bilateral forearm immersion in warm water (42 degrees C), 3 times per week for 30 min. During these immersion sessions, shear stress was manipulated in one arm by inflating a pneumatic cuff to 100 mmHg, whilst the other arm remained uncuffed. Vasodilatation to local heating, a NO-dependent response assessed using laser Doppler, improved across the 8 week intervention period in the uncuffed arm (cutaneous vascular conductance week 0 vs. week 4 at 41 degrees C: 1.37 +/- 0.45 vs. 2.0 +/- 0.91 units, P = 0.04; 42 degrees C: 2.06 +/- 0.45 vs. 2.68 +/- 0.83 units; P = 0.04), whereas no significant changes were evident in the cuffed arm. We conclude that increased blood flow, and the likely attendant increase in shear stress, is a key physiological stimulus for enhancing microvascular vasodilator function in humans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Body Temperature / physiology
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Forearm / blood supply
  • Forearm / physiology
  • Hot Temperature*
  • Humans
  • Hyperemia / physiopathology*
  • Immersion
  • Laser-Doppler Flowmetry
  • Male
  • Microcirculation / physiology*
  • Nitric Oxide / physiology
  • Perfusion
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Regional Blood Flow / physiology
  • Skin / blood supply
  • Skin Temperature / physiology
  • Stress, Mechanical*
  • Young Adult


  • Nitric Oxide