Arterioles within the microcirculation control organ blood flow and represent the main peripheral resistance within the circulation. However, larger vessels with a diameter of more than 150 m are mostly used to study vascular behavior. Although arterioles have features in common with these conducting vessels, they exhibit distinct properties and the contribution of different pathways to constriction or relaxation varies with vessel size. This is especially the case for endothelium-dependent relaxations, which occur in response to mechanical stimuli (e.g. blood flow) and agonists. Autacoids released from the endothelium include nitric oxide, prostaglandins and an endothelium-derived hyperpolarizing factor (EDHF). Whereas nitric oxide is dominant in larger vessels, the importance of EDHF increases with decreasing vessel size. Its chemical nature is still a matter of debate and different substances have been identified to act as an EDHF in different vascular beds, e.g. epoxyeicosanoids, potassium ions, anandamide, hydrogen peroxide or C-type natriuretic peptide. Despite this heterogeneity of proposed factors it is unclear if such a factor indeed exists in all vessels since the hyperpolarization of vascular smooth muscle has been proposed to be induced by simple current transfer from the adjacent endothelium. For this to occur the cells need to be electrically coupled and this requirement is fulfilled by gap junctions which are composed of connexins forming intercellular channels. Aside from myoendothelial coupling gap junctions also interconnect endothelial cells thus creating a functional unit, which efficiently synchronizes cellular behavior within the arteriolar tree of the microcirculation.
Keywords: Arterioles, endothelium-dependent dilation, hyperpolarization, connexin, myoendothelial coupling
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