Regulation of blood flow in the microcirculation: role of conducted vasodilation

Acta Physiol (Oxf). 2011 Jul;202(3):271-84. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-1716.2010.02244.x. Epub 2011 Mar 1.


This review is concerned with understanding how vasodilation initiated from local sites in the tissue can spread to encompass multiple branches of the resistance vasculature. Within tissues, arteriolar networks control the distribution and magnitude of capillary perfusion. Vasodilation arising from the microcirculation can 'ascend' into feed arteries that control blood flow into arteriolar networks. Thus distal segments of the resistance network signal proximal segments to dilate and thereby increase total oxygen supply to parenchymal cells. August Krogh proposed that innervation of capillaries provided the mechanism for a spreading vasodilatory response. With greater understanding of the ultrastructural organization of resistance networks, an alternative explanation has emerged: Electrical signalling from cell to cell along the vessel wall through gap junctions. Hyperpolarization originates from ion channel activation at the site of stimulation with the endothelium serving as the predominant cellular pathway for signal conduction along the vessel wall. As hyperpolarization travels, it is transmitted into surrounding smooth muscle cells through myoendothelial coupling to promote relaxation. Conducted vasodilation (CVD) encompasses greater distances than can be explained by passive decay and understanding such behaviour is the focus of current research efforts. In the context of athletic performance, the ability of vasodilation to ascend into feed arteries is essential to achieving peak levels of muscle blood flow. CVD is tempered by sympathetic neuroeffector signalling when governing muscle blood flow at rest and during exercise. Impairment of conduction during ageing and in diseased states can limit physical work capacity by restricting muscle blood flow.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arterioles / physiology
  • Cell Communication / physiology
  • Gap Junctions / metabolism
  • Hemodynamics
  • Ion Channels / metabolism
  • Microcirculation / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / blood supply
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Muscle, Smooth, Vascular / physiology
  • Regional Blood Flow / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Vasodilation / physiology*
  • Vasomotor System / physiology


  • Ion Channels