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J Physiol. 2012 Sep 1;590(17):4391-400. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2012.235952. Epub 2012 Jun 25.

The hyperaemic response to passive leg movement is dependent on nitric oxide: a new tool to evaluate endothelial nitric oxide function.

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Copenhagen Muscle Research Centre and Centre of Inflammation & Metabolism, Rigshospitalet, Section 7641, Blegdamsvej 9, 2100 Copenhagen Ø, Denmark.


Passive leg movement is associated with a ∼3-fold increase in blood flow to the leg but the underlying mechanisms remain unknown. The objective of the present study was to examine the role of nitric oxide (NO) for the hyperaemia observed during passive leg movement. Leg haemodynamics and metabolites of NO production (nitrite and nitrate; NOx) were measured in plasma and muscle interstitial fluid at rest and during passive leg movement with and without inhibition of NO formation in healthy young males. The hyperaemic response to passive leg movement and to ACh was also assessed in elderly subjects and patients with peripheral artery disease. Passive leg movement (60 r.p.m.) increased leg blood flow from 0.3 ± 0.1 to 0.9 ± 0.1 litre min(-1) at 20 s and 0.5 ± 0.1 litre min(-1) at 3 min (P < 0.05). Mean arterial pressure remained unchanged during the trial. When passive leg movement was performed during inhibition of NO formation (N(G)-mono-methyl-l-arginine; 29-52 mg min(-1)), leg blood flow and vascular conductance were increased after 20 s (P < 0.05) and then returned to baseline levels, despite an increase in arterial pressure (P < 0.05). Passive leg movement increased the femoral venous NOx levels from 35 ± 5 at baseline to 62 ± 11 μmol l(-1) during passive leg movement (P < 0.05), whereas muscle interstitial NOx levels remained unchanged. The hyperaemic response to passive leg movement were correlated with the vasodilatation induced by ACh (r(2) = 0.704, P < 0.001) and with age (r(2) = 0.612, P < 0.001). Leg blood flow did not increase during passive leg movement in individuals with peripheral arterial disease. These results suggest that the hypaeremia induced by passive leg movement is NO dependent and that the source of NO is likely to be the endothelium. Passive leg movement could therefore be used as a non-invasive tool to evaluate NO dependent endothelial function of the lower limb.

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