1. The response of cerebral blood vessels to hyperosmolar agents in vivo remains controversial, and little is known about the effect of glycerol on cerebral vessels. In this study we investigated the cerebrovascular response to intravenous administration of glycerol (1 g/kg, infused over 25 min) in dogs under pentobarbital anaesthesia.

2. Intracranial pressure, systemic arterial pressure, mean arterial blood pressure, serum osmolarity and packed cell volume were continuously monitored, and blood gases were checked frequently. Through a parietal cranial window, pial vessel diameter was measured by means of a surgical microscope and a video image-analyser.

3. Pial vessel diameter increased gradually with a maximum at 30 min after the beginning of glycerol infusion. The maximum increase in diameter in small (< 100 μm) vessels was 14.3%, whereas that in large (> 100 μm) vessels was 10.3%. There was only a slight increase (< 4%) in pial vessel diameter in vehicle-infused animals. The intracranial pressure decreased drastically after glycerol infusion, whereas the mean arterial blood pressure remained constant. There were correlations between the rise in serum osmolarity, fall in packed cell volume and vasodilatation, indicating that glycerol caused vasodilatation accompanied by plasma volume expansion.

4. Our data suggest that glycerol produces cerebral vasodilatation, which might be beneficial in cerebral ischaemia and vasospasm, in addition to its intracranial pressure-reducing effect on normal or oedematous brain. The degree of vasodilatation was not sufficient to affect the predominant intracranial pressure drop resulting from cerebral dehydration.

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