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Physiol Rep. 2013 Aug;1(3):e00050.

Capillary recruitment in a theoretical model for blood flow regulation in heterogeneous microvessel networks.

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  • 1Program in Applied Mathematics, University of Arizona, Tucson AZ 85721.


In striated muscle, the number of capillaries containing moving red blood cells increases with increasing metabolic demand. This phenomenon, termed capillary recruitment, has long been recognized but its mechanism has been unclear. Here, a theoretical model for metabolic blood flow regulation in a heterogeneous network is used to test the hypothesis that capillary recruitment occurs as a result of active control of arteriolar diameters, combined with unequal partition of hematocrit at diverging microvascular bifurcations. The network structure is derived from published observations of hamster cremaster muscle in control and dilated states. The model for modulation of arteriolar diameters includes length-tension characteristics of vascular smooth muscle and responses of smooth muscle tone to myogenic, shear-dependent, and metabolic stimuli. Blood flow is simulated including non-uniform hematocrit distribution. Convective and diffusive oxygen transport in the network is simulated. Oxygen-dependent metabolic signals are assumed to be conducted upstream from distal vessels to arterioles. With increasing oxygen demand, arterioles dilate, blood flow increases, and the numbers of flowing arterioles and capillaries, as defined by red blood cell flux above a small threshold value, increase. Unequal hematocrit partition at diverging bifurcations contributes to recruitment and enhances tissue oxygenation. The results imply that capillary recruitment, as observed in the hamster cremaster preparations, can occur as a consequence of local control of arteriolar tone and the resulting non-uniform changes in red blood cell fluxes, and provide an explanation for observations of sequential recruitment of individual capillaries in response to modulation of terminal arteriolar diameter.


blood flow; capillary; computer modeling

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