Skeletal muscle blood flow and vascular conductance are influenced by numerous factors that can be divided into two general categories: central cardiovascular control mechanisms and local vascular control mechanisms. Central cardiovascular control mechanisms are thought to be designed primarily for the maintenance of arterial pressure and central cardiovascular homeostasis, whereas local vascular control mechanisms are thought to be designed primarily for the maintenance of muscle homeostasis. To support the high metabolic rates that can be generated during muscle contraction, skeletal muscle has a tremendous capacity to vasodilate and increase oxygen and nutrient delivery. During whole body dynamic exercise at maximal oxygen consumption (VO2 max), the skeletal muscle receives 85-90% of cardiac output. Yet despite receiving such a large fraction of cardiac output during high-intensity exercise, a vasodilator reserve remains with the potential to produce further elevations in skeletal muscle vascular conductance and blood flow. However, because maximal cardiac output is reached during exercise at VO2 max, further elevations in muscle vascular conductance would produce a fall in arterial pressure. Therefore, limits on muscle perfusion must be imposed during whole body exercise to prevent such drops in pressure. Effective arterial pressure control in response to a potentially hypotensive challenge during high-intensity exercise occurs primarily through reflex-mediated increases in sympathetic nerve activity, which are capable of modulating vasomotor tone of the skeletal muscle resistance vasculature. Thus skeletal muscle vascular conductance and perfusion are primarily mediated by local factors at rest and during exercise, but other centrally mediated control systems are superimposed on the dominant local control mechanisms to provide an integrated regulation of both arterial pressure and skeletal muscle vascular conductance and perfusion during whole body dynamic exercise.
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