Precapillary sphincters maintain perfusion in the cerebral cortex

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Active nerve cells release vasodilators that increase their energy supply by dilating local blood vessels, a mechanism termed neurovascular coupling and the basis of BOLD functional neuroimaging signals. Here, we reveal a mechanism for cerebral blood flow control, a precapillary sphincter at the transition between the penetrating arteriole and first order capillary, linking blood flow in capillaries to the arteriolar inflow. The sphincters are encircled by contractile mural cells, which are capable of bidirectional control of the length and width of the enclosed vessel segment. The hemodynamic consequence is that precapillary sphincters can generate the largest changes in the cerebrovascular flow resistance of all brain vessel segments, thereby controlling capillary flow while protecting the downstream capillary bed and brain tissue from adverse pressure fluctuations. Cortical spreading depolarization constricts sphincters and causes vascular trapping of blood cells. Thus, precapillary sphincters are bottlenecks for brain capillary blood flow.

Original languageEnglish
Article number395
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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