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Circulation Research


Rationale: Skeletal muscle blood flow is coupled with the oxygenation state of hemoglobin in young adults, whereby the erythrocyte functions as an oxygen sensor and releases ATP during deoxygenation to evoke vasodilation. Whether this function is impaired in humans of advanced age is unknown.

Objective: To test the hypothesis that older adults demonstrate impaired muscle blood flow and lower intravascular ATP during conditions of erythrocyte deoxygenation.

Methods and Results: We showed impaired forearm blood flow responses during 2 conditions of erythrocyte deoxygenation (systemic hypoxia and graded handgrip exercise) with age, which was caused by reduced local vasodilation. In young adults, both hypoxia and exercise significantly increased venous [ATP] and ATP effluent (forearm blood flow×[ATP]) draining the skeletal muscle. In contrast, hypoxia and exercise did not increase venous [ATP] in older adults, and both venous [ATP] and ATP effluent were substantially reduced compared with young people despite similar levels of deoxygenation. Next, we demonstrated that this could not be explained by augmented extracellular ATP hydrolysis in whole blood with age. Finally, we found that deoxygenation-mediated ATP release from isolated erythrocytes was essentially nonexistent in older adults.

Conclusions: Skeletal muscle blood flow during conditions of erythrocyte deoxygenation was markedly reduced in aging humans, and reductions in plasma ATP and erythrocyte-mediated ATP release may be a novel mechanism underlying impaired vasodilation and oxygen delivery during hypoxemia with advancing age. Because aging is associated with elevated risk for ischemic cardiovascular disease and exercise intolerance, interventions that target erythrocyte-mediated ATP release may offer therapeutic potential.

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This is the peer-reviewed version of the following article:

Kirby B.S., A.R. Crecelius, W.F. Voyles, and F.A. Dinenno. “Impaired skeletal muscle blood flow control with advancing age in humans: attenuated ATP release and local vasodilation during erythrocyte deoxygenation.” Circ Res. 111:220-230. 2012.

The article available in the repository is the author's accepted manuscript; the version of record may contain minor differences that have come about in the copy editing and layout processes.


American Heart Association



Peer Reviewed



aging, blood flow, ATP, erythrocytes, hypoxia

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