The cerebrovascular response to carbon dioxide in humans

J Physiol. 2011 Jun 15;589(Pt 12):3039-48. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2011.206052. Epub 2011 Apr 26.


Carbon dioxide (CO2) increases cerebral blood flow and arterial blood pressure. Cerebral blood flow increases not only due to the vasodilating effect of CO2 but also because of the increased perfusion pressure after autoregulation is exhausted. Our objective was to measure the responses of both middle cerebral artery velocity (MCAv) and mean arterial blood pressure (MAP) to CO2 in human subjects using Duffin-type isoxic rebreathing tests. Comparisons of isoxic hyperoxic with isoxic hypoxic tests enabled the effect of oxygen tension to be determined. During rebreathing the MCAv response to CO2 was sigmoidal below a discernible threshold CO2 tension, increasing from a hypocapnic minimum to a hypercapnic maximum. In most subjects this threshold corresponded with the CO2 tension at which MAP began to increase. Above this threshold both MCAv and MAP increased linearly with CO2 tension. The sigmoidal MCAv response was centred at a CO2 tension close to normal resting values (overall mean 36 mmHg). While hypoxia increased the hypercapnic maximum percentage increase in MCAv with CO2 (overall means from76.5 to 108%) it did not affect other sigmoid parameters. Hypoxia also did not alter the supra-threshold MCAv and MAP responses to CO2 (overall mean slopes 5.5% mmHg⁻¹ and 2.1 mmHg mmHg⁻¹, respectively), but did reduce the threshold (overall means from 51.5 to 46.8 mmHg). We concluded that in the MCAv response range below the threshold for the increase of MAP with CO2, the MCAv measurement reflects vascular reactivity to CO2 alone at a constant MAP.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Blood Flow Velocity
  • Blood Pressure / physiology*
  • Carbon Dioxide / pharmacokinetics*
  • Carbon Dioxide / pharmacology*
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Oxygen / metabolism*
  • Young Adult


  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Oxygen