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J Appl Physiol (1985). 2010 Oct;109(4):1221-8. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00298.2010. Epub 2010 May 6.

Mechanisms and modifiers of reflex induced cutaneous vasodilation and vasoconstriction in humans.

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  • 1Dept. of Physiology & BME-JO4184W, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Rochester, MN 55905, USA.


Human skin blood flow responses to body heating and cooling are essential to the normal processes of physiological thermoregulation. Large increases in skin blood flow provide the necessary augmentation of convective heat loss during environmental heat exposure and/or exercise, just as reflex cutaneous vasoconstriction is key to preventing excessive heat dissipation during cold exposure. In humans, reflex sympathetic innervation of the cutaneous circulation has two branches: a sympathetic noradrenergic vasoconstrictor system, and a non-noradrenergic active vasodilator system. Noradrenergic vasoconstrictor nerves are tonically active in normothermic environments and increase their activity during cold exposure, releasing both norepinephrine and cotransmitters (including neuropeptide Y) to decrease skin blood flow. The active vasodilator system in human skin does not exhibit resting tone and is only activated during increases in body temperature, such as those brought about by heat exposure or exercise. Active cutaneous vasodilation occurs via cholinergic nerve cotransmission and has been shown to include potential roles for nitric oxide, vasoactive intestinal peptide, prostaglandins, and substance P (and/or neurokinin-1 receptors). It has proven both interesting and challenging that no one substance has been identified as the sole mediator of active cutaneous vasodilation. The processes of reflex cutaneous vasodilation and vasoconstriction are both modified by acute factors, such as exercise and hydration, and more long-term factors, such as aging, reproductive hormones, and disease. This review will highlight some of the recent findings in these areas, as well as interesting areas of ongoing and future work.

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