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Is There a Difference in Vascular Reactivity of the Arms and Legs?


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: October 2006 - Volume 38 - Issue 10 - p 1819-1828
doi: 10.1249/01.mss.0000230340.79247.52
SYMPOSIUM: Skeletal Muscle Blood Flow and Metabolism: Are There Inherent Limb Differences?

ABSTRACT The arterial vessels within the arms and legs are exposed to different hydrostatic pressures and blood-flow demands during the course of daily life. There is compelling indirect evidence that arterial reactivity differs in the arms and legs of humans; greater blood-flow responses to physiological vasodilator stimuli are generally reported in the arms of healthy younger subjects, whereas greater sympathetically mediated vasoconstrictor responsiveness is generally observed in the legs. Limb blood-flow responses to local arterial infusions of vasoactive agents reveal a similar pattern of heterogeneity in human arms versus legs. The advantages and assumptions of these pharmacological approaches for evaluating limb arterial reactivity are discussed, and methodological issues pertaining to the normalization and interpretation of vascular responses in the human arm and leg are critically examined. The article concludes with recent data from our laboratory indicating that limb-specific variation in arterial function may be age-, sex-, and physical activity dependent.

1Noll Laboratory, Department of Kinesiology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA; 2The Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Hershey, PA; and 3The Department of Biomedical Science, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO

Address for correspondence: David N. Proctor, Ph.D., Noll Laboratory, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802-6900; E-mail:

Submitted for publication December 2005.

Accepted for publication May 2006.

©2006The American College of Sports Medicine