• autoregulation;
  • calcitonin gene-related peptide;
  • cerebral circulation;
  • endothelin;
  • flow-metabolism;
  • hypercapnia;
  • nitric oxide;
  • potassium channel.


1. Mechanisms that regulate the cerebral circulation have been intensively investigated in recent years. The role of several vasodilator mechanisms has been examined in the cerebral circulation, including nitric oxide (NO), trigeminal peptides and potassium channels, as well as the potent vasoconstrictor endothelin. These mediators appear to play a role in physiological and pathophysiological responses of the cerebral circulation. In the present review, we will focus on some recent developments in each of these areas.

2. Nitric oxide is an important regulator of cerebral vascular tone. Tonic production of NO maintains the cerebral vasculature in a dilated state. NO appears to be an important vasodilator during activation of neurons by excitatory amino acids, somatosensory stimulation and cortical spreading depression. Tonic production of NO appears to be critical in vasodilatation during hypercapnia, although NO may not directly mediate vasodilatation. NO produced by immunological NO-synthase appears to be important in dilatation following exposure to bacterial endotoxin.

3. Calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), released from trigeminal perivascular sensory nerves in the brain, is an extremely potent dilator of brain vessels. CGRP may limit noradrenaline-induced constriction of cerebral vessels and contribute to dilatation during hypotension (autoregulation), reactive hyperaemia, seizures and cortical spreading depression.

4. Activation of potassium channels leads to hyperpolarization of cerebral vascular smooth muscle and appears to be a major mechanism for dilatation of cerebral arteries. Agents that increase the intracellular concentration of cyclic 3′ 5′-adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) produce vasodilatation in part by activation of large conductance calcium-activated potassium channels (BKCa) and ATP-sensitive potassium channels (KATP). Activation of both KATP and BKCa channels also appears to contribute to vasodilatation during hypoxia. In contrast to KATP channels, BKCa channels appears to be active under basal conditions, contributing to tonic dilatation of cerebral blood vessels.

5. Endothelin is produced in the brain, but its role in the physiological regulation of cerebral blood flow is not known. Endothelin may contribute to the spasm of cerebral arteries following subarachnoid haemorrhage.