The roles of cerebral blood flow, capillary transit time heterogeneity, and oxygen tension in brain oxygenation and metabolism

J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2012 Feb;32(2):264-77. doi: 10.1038/jcbfm.2011.153. Epub 2011 Nov 2.


Normal brain function depends critically on moment-to-moment regulation of oxygen supply by the bloodstream to meet changing metabolic needs. Neurovascular coupling, a range of mechanisms that converge on arterioles to adjust local cerebral blood flow (CBF), represents our current framework for understanding this regulation. We modeled the combined effects of CBF and capillary transit time heterogeneity (CTTH) on the maximum oxygen extraction fraction (OEF(max)) and metabolic rate of oxygen that can biophysically be supported, for a given tissue oxygen tension. Red blood cell velocity recordings in rat brain support close hemodynamic-metabolic coupling by means of CBF and CTTH across a range of physiological conditions. The CTTH reduction improves tissue oxygenation by counteracting inherent reductions in OEF(max) as CBF increases, and seemingly secures sufficient oxygenation during episodes of hyperemia resulting from cortical activation or hypoxemia. In hypoperfusion and states of blocked CBF, both lower oxygen tension and CTTH may secure tissue oxygenation. Our model predicts that disturbed capillary flows may cause a condition of malignant CTTH, in which states of higher CBF display lower oxygen availability. We propose that conditions with altered capillary morphology, such as amyloid, diabetic or hypertensive microangiopathy, and ischemia-reperfusion, may disturb CTTH and thereby flow-metabolism coupling and cerebral oxygen metabolism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Basal Metabolism
  • Biological Transport
  • Brain / blood supply*
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Capillaries / physiology*
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation
  • Hemodynamics
  • Humans
  • Hypercapnia / metabolism
  • Hypotension / metabolism
  • Hypoxia / metabolism
  • Kinetics
  • Models, Biological
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Oxygen / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Vasodilation


  • Oxygen