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Growth Regulation Of The Vascular System: Evidence For A Metabolic Hypothesis

T. H. Adair, W. J. Gay, J. P. Montani

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Prolonged imbalances between the perfusion capabilities of the blood vessels and the metabolic requirements of the tissue cells often lead to modification of the vasculature to satisfy the tissue needs. This homeostatic response appears to be bidirectional, since the vascularity of a tissue can increase or decrease in parallel with primary changes in metabolic rate. The factors that mediate the responses are not well understood, but oxygen has been implicated as a major control element, since vessel growth increases during hypoxic conditions and decreases during hyperoxic conditions. The following feedback control hypothesis may apply to many different physiological situations. Decreased oxygenation causes the tissues to become hypoxic, and this initiates a variety of signals that lead to the growth of blood vessels. The increase in vascularity promotes oxygen delivery to the tissue cells by decreasing diffusion distances, increasing capillary surface area, and increasing the maximum rate of blood flow. When the tissues receive adequate amounts of oxygen even during periods of peak activity, the intermediate effectors return to normal levels, and this negative signal, in turn, stops the further development of the vasculature. Although the effector mechanisms of the hypoxic stimulus are still being investigated, adenosine, which is produced in hypoxic tissues, appears to mediate hypoxia-induced increases in vascularity in some instances. Roles for fibroblast growth factor as well as mechanical factors associated with vasodilation and increased blood flow are postulated. Although blood vessel growth is a multifactorial process, a major influence in its regulation appears to be metabolic need. If this view is correct, it may be found that many of the quantitatively significant factors that control growth in a given vasculature are themselves modulated or controlled by metabolic signals reflecting the nutritional status of the tissues which that vasculature supplies.