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Keywords:

  • amplification of nutrient delivery;
  • connective tissue adipocytes;
  • connective tissue flow;
  • microsphere embolism;
  • muscle capillary flow;
  • resting muscle metabolism

There is growing evidence to support the notion of two vascular routes within, or closely associated with skeletal muscle. One route is in intimate contact with muscle cells (hence is known as ‘nutritive’) and the other functions as a vascular shunt (and has had the interesting misnomer of ‘non-nutritive’). Recent findings suggest that the ‘non-nutritive’ route may, in part, be those vessels in closely associated (interlacing?) connective tissue that nourishes attached fat cells, and may form the basis of ‘marbling’ of muscle in obesity. In addition, embolism studies using various size microspheres indicate that the ‘non-nutritive’ vessels are likely to be capillaries fed by terminal arterioles that branch from the same transverse arterioles as those supplying terminal arterioles of the muscle capillaries (i.e. two vascular systems operating in parallel). The proportion of flow distributed between the two routes is tightly regulated and controls muscle metabolism and contraction by regulating hormone and substrate delivery as well as product removal. Because a high proportion of nutritive flow may elevate the set point for basal metabolism, a low proportion of nutritive flow in muscle at rest confers an evolutionary advantage, particularly when food is scarce. In addition, the proportion of flow that is carried by the non-nutritive routes at rest affords a flow reserve that can be switched to the nutritive route to amplify nutrient supply during exercise. Alternatively the non-nutritive route may allow flow to escape when active muscle contraction compresses its nutritive capillaries. Thus rhythmic oscillation of blood flow between the non-nutritive and nutritive networks may aid the muscle pump.