Microvascular hematocrit and red cell flow in resting and contracting striated muscle.
Microvascular hematocrit and its possible relation to oxygen supply were systematically examined. We studied the red cell volume fraction (hematocrit) in arterial blood and in capillaries under a variety of circumstances. Control capillary hematocrit averaged 10.4 +/- 2.0% (SE) and arteriolar (14.2 micrometer ID) hematocrit averaged 13.9 +/- 1.2% in cremaster muscles of pentobarbital-anesthetized hamsters. Carotid artery hematocrit was 53.2 +/- 0.6%. The low microvessel hematocrit could not be entirely explained by a high red cell flux through arteriovenous channels other than capillaries (shunting). Hematocrit was not only low at rest, but varied with physiological stimuli. A 1-Hz muscle contraction increased capillary hematocrit to 18.5 +/- 2.4%, and maximal vasodilation induced a rise to 39.3 +/- 9.5%. The quantitative relations between capillary red cell flux, arterial hematocrit, and total blood flow could be explained by a two-element model of microvascular blood flow that incorporated a relatively slow-moving plasma layer (1.2 micrometer). Such a model would generate a low microvessel hematocrit and might reduce the diffusion capacity of individual capillaries, but would not reduce time-averaged red cell flux or alter steady-state vascular oxygen supply.
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