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Physiol Rev. 2003 Jul;83(3):933-63.

Oxygen gradients in the microcirculation.

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Department of Bioengineering, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Dr, La Jolla, CA 92093-0412, USA.


As arterialized blood transits from the central circulation to the periphery, oxygen exits through the vessel walls driven by radial oxygen gradients that extend from the red blood cell column, through the plasma, the vessel wall, and the parenchymal tissue. This exit determines a longitudinal gradient of blood oxygen saturation whose extent is inversely related to the level of metabolic activity of the tissue, being small for the brain and considerable for skeletal muscle at rest where hemoglobin is only half-saturated with oxygen when blood arrives to the capillaries. Data obtained by a variety of methods show that the oxygen loss is too great to be explained by diffusion alone, and oxygen gradients measured in the arteriolar wall provide evidence that this structure in vivo is a very large oxygen sink, and suggests a rate of oxygen consumption two orders of magnitude greater than seen in in vitro studies. Longitudinal gradients in the capillary network and radial gradients in surrounding tissue also show a dependence on the metabolic rate of the tissue, being more pronounced in brain than in resting skeletal muscle and mesentery. Mean PO2 values increase from the postcapillary venules to the distal vessels of this network while radial gradients indicate additional oxygen loss. This circumstance may be due to pathways with higher flow having higher oxygen content than low flow pathways as well as possible oxygen uptake from adjacent arterioles. Taken together, these newer findings on oxygen gradients in the microcirculation require a reexamination of existing concepts of oxygen delivery to tissue and the role of the capillaries in this process.

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