Background: Increase of blood flow in the ischaemic leg is believed to represent the main action of prostaglandin E1 (PGE1) in the therapy of peripheral vascular disease (PVD). There is no reliable data in man concerning the amount of increase in muscular blood flow (MBF) of the calf, and the difference between intra-arterial and intravenous application.
Patients and methods: We conducted a positron emission tomography (PET) study of MBF with 15O-water as flow tracer. Fifteen patients with PVD and three healthy volunteers were given 5 micrograms PGE1 intra-arterially over 50 min; PET scans were taken at 0, 25 and 50 min. Additionally, eight of the patients were investigated during an intravenous infusion of 40 micrograms PGE1 over 120 min; PET scans were taken at 0, 30, 60 and 120 min.
Results: Increase of muscular blood flow by intra-arterial PGE1 averaged 80%. A steal phenomenon was not observed. The amount of flow enhancement depended on whether or not the femoral artery was patent. During intravenous PGE1, muscular blood flow remained unchanged.
Conclusions: In man, the pharmacodynamic profile of intra-arterial PGE1 differs clearly from intravenous PGE1. The flow-enhancing property is lost during metabolization in the lung. Since no difference exists between the therapeutic efficacy of intraarterial and intravenous PGE1, the impact on muscular blood flow is not as important as suggested previously.