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PLoS One. 2011;6(10):e26709. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0026709. Epub 2011 Oct 28.

Scaling of brain metabolism and blood flow in relation to capillary and neural scaling.

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Institute of Biocybernetics and Biomedical Engineering, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, Poland.


Brain is one of the most energy demanding organs in mammals, and its total metabolic rate scales with brain volume raised to a power of around 5/6. This value is significantly higher than the more common exponent 3/4 relating whole body resting metabolism with body mass and several other physiological variables in animals and plants. This article investigates the reasons for brain allometric distinction on a level of its microvessels. Based on collected empirical data it is found that regional cerebral blood flow CBF across gray matter scales with cortical volume V as CBF ~ V(-1/6), brain capillary diameter increases as V(1/12), and density of capillary length decreases as V(-1/6). It is predicted that velocity of capillary blood is almost invariant (~V(ε)), capillary transit time scales as V(1/6), capillary length increases as V(1/6+ε), and capillary number as V(2/3-ε), where ε is typically a small correction for medium and large brains, due to blood viscosity dependence on capillary radius. It is shown that the amount of capillary length and blood flow per cortical neuron are essentially conserved across mammals. These results indicate that geometry and dynamics of global neuro-vascular coupling have a proportionate character. Moreover, cerebral metabolic, hemodynamic, and microvascular variables scale with allometric exponents that are simple multiples of 1/6, rather than 1/4, which suggests that brain metabolism is more similar to the metabolism of aerobic than resting body. Relation of these findings to brain functional imaging studies involving the link between cerebral metabolism and blood flow is also discussed.

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