1. The diameters of main cortical surface branches of the middle cerebral artery were continuously monitored through a closed cranial window in spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR) and in normotensive Wistar Kyoto (WKY) rats by aid of a multichannel video-angiometer under resting conditions and under maximal vasodilatation induced by hypercapnia.
2. Initial mean arterial pressure was 172 ± sem 9 mmHg in SHR and 103 ± 5 mmHg in WKY rats; during hypercapnia the corresponding values were 183 ± 9 and 127 ± 7 mmHg.
3. The resting diameter of the arteries was 55 ± 1 μm in SHR (n = 53) and 87 ± 1 μm in WKY rats (n = 53; P < 0.001). The percentage increase in diameter during vasodilatation (Paco2 70 mmHg) was larger in SHR (54%) than in WKY rats (36%). However, the maximum lumen diameter remained significantly smaller in SHR (84 ± 2 μm compared with 117 ± 5 μm in WKY rats; P < 0.001). No significant further dilatation was seen in either group after α-adrenoceptor blockade.
4. The smaller diameter of cortical arteries during vasodilatation is consistent with the concept that hypertensive vascular hypertrophy encroaches on the lumen in vivo. The larger percentage increase in diameter of cortical arteries in hypertensive rats corroborates Folkow's hypothesis on the haemodynamic consequences of an altered media/lumen ratio in hypertension.
5. There is no evidence that an enhanced sympatho-adrenergic tone prevents maximum vasodilatation during hypercapnia in SHR.