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Regulatory processes interacting to maintain hepatic blood flow constancy: Vascular compliance, hepatic arterial buffer response, hepatorenal reflex, liver regeneration, escape from vasoconstriction


Professor W. Wayne Lautt, Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Faculty of Medicine, University of Manitoba, A210-753 McDermot Avenue, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, R3E 0T6. Email:


Constancy of hepatic blood flow (HBF) is crucial for several homeostatic roles. The present conceptual review focuses on interrelated mechanisms that act to maintain a constant HBF per liver mass. The liver cannot directly control portal blood flow (PF); therefore, these mechanisms largely operate to compensate for PF changes. A reduction in PF leads to reduced intrahepatic distending pressure, resulting in the highly compliant hepatic vasculature passively expelling up to 50% of its blood volume, thus adding to venous return, cardiac output and HBF. Also activated immediately upon reduction of PF are the hepatic arterial buffer response and an HBF-dependent hepatorenal reflex. Adenosine is secreted at a constant rate into the small fluid space of Mall which surrounds the terminal branches of the hepatic arterioles, portal venules and sensory nerves. The concentration of adenosine is regulated by washout into the portal venules. Reduced PFreduces the washout and the accumulated adenosine causes dilation of the hepatic artery, thus buffering the PF change. Adenosine also activates hepatic sensory nerves to cause reflex renal fluid retention, thus increasing circulating blood volume and maintaining cardiac output and PF. If these mechanisms are not able to maintain total HBF, the hemodynamic imbalance results in hepatocyte proliferation, or apoptosis, by a shear stress/nitric oxide-dependent mechanism, to adjust total liver mass to match the blood supply. These mechanisms are specific to this unique vascular bed and provide an excellent example of multiple integrative regulation of a major homeostatic organ.