1. Six unanaesthetized goats were used to evaluate the effect of liver failure on the hypoxic responsiveness of cerebral blood flow. The animals breathed air and several different hypoxic gas mixtures enriched with sufficient CO2 to maintain an isocapnic state. The cerebral metabolic rate for O2 (CMRo2) was also measured in four of these goats.
2. In baseline studies there was a linear relationship between cerebral blood flow and arterial O2 saturation (Sa,o2) measured at different levels of isocapnic hypoxia. The slopes of the cerebral blood flow/Sa,o2 response lines were used to quantify the response of cerebral blood flow to hypoxia. In the healthy goat, CMRo2 was not depressed by hypoxia until the O2 tension (Po2) in arterial and cerebral venous blood had fallen below critical threshold values of approximately 3·2 and 2·2 kPa (24 and 16 mmHg) respectively.
3. Liver failure was accompanied by a fall in cerebral blood flow and CMRo2. There was also a depression in the response of cerebral blood flow to hypoxia and a disproportionate reduction of cerebral O2 delivery in hypoxia. CMRo2 was further reduced at arterial and cerebral venous Po2 values, which were much higher than the critical threshold values for producing hypoxic CMRo2 depression in health.
4. It is concluded that the brain becomes more vulnerable to the adverse effects of hypoxia during liver failure. This may be of practical importance in the management of patients with arterial hypoxaemia or other complications (e.g. anaemia or shock), which may reduce cerebral oxygen delivery.