While the existence of structural adaptation of coronary anastomoses is undisputed, the potential of coronary collaterals to be capable of functional adaptation has been questioned. For many years, collateral vessels were thought to be rigid tubes allowing only limited blood flow governed by the pressure gradient across them. This concept was consistent with the notion that although collaterals could provide adequate blood flow to maintain resting levels, they would be unable to increase blood flow sufficiently in situations of increased myocardial oxygen demand.
However, more recent studies have demonstrated the capability of the collateral circulation to deliver sufficient blood flow even during exertion or pharmacologic stress. Moreover, it has been shown that increases in collateral flow could be attributed directly to collateral vasomotion.
This review summarizes the pathophysiology of the coronary collateral circulation, ie the functional adapation of coronary collaterals to acute alterations in the coronary circulation.
Department of Cardiology, University Hospital, Bern, SWITZERLAND