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Microcirculation. 1997 Sep;4(3):329-40.

The cutaneous microcirculation: ultrastructure and microanatomical organization.

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Department of Dermatology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut 06510, USA.


The cutaneous microcirculation is organized as two horizontal plexuses. One is situated 1-1.5 mm below the skin surface, and the other is at the dermal-subcutaneous junction. Ascending arterioles and descending venules are paired as they connect the two plexuses. From the upper layer, arterial capillaries arise to form the dermal papillary loops that represent the nutritive component of the skin circulation. There are sphincter-like smooth muscle cells at the point where the ascending arterioles divide to form the arteriolar component of the upper horizontal plexus. At the dermal subcutaneous junction, there are collecting veins with 2-cusped valves that are oriented to prevent the retrograde flow of blood. Laser Doppler flowmetry (LDF) has demonstrated vasomotion of red cell flux localized to the sites of ascending arterioles. The simultaneous recording by LDF of red cell flux and the concentration of moving red blood cells from individual sites allows one to construct by computer topographic maps of these two valves. The two maps, based on initial studies using correlative skin biopsy specimens, can define 1-mm3 volumes of skin that are predominantly arteriolar in composition, predominantly venular in composition, or essentially devoid of all microvascular elements. The electron and light microscopic features that define the microvascular segments, when coupled with the ability of LDF to define the predominant microvascular segments under the probe, will allow one to study both the mechanisms of normal physiological states and the pathogenetic mechanisms underlying pathological skin disorders in which the microvasculature plays a predominant role.

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