1. In studying forearm skeletal muscle substrate exchange, an often applied method for estimating skeletal muscle blood flow is strain gauge plethysmography. A disadvantage of this method is that it only measures total blood flow through a segment of forearm and not the flow through the individual parts such as skin, adipose tissue and muscle.

2. In the present study the contribution of forearm subcutaneous adipose tissue blood flow to total forearm blood flow was evaluated in lean (% body fat 17.0 ± 2.2) and obese males (% body fat 30.9 ± 1.6) during rest and during infusion of the non-selective β-agonist isoprenaline. Measurements were obtained of body composition (hydrostatic weighing), forearm composition (magnetic resonance imaging) and of total forearm (venous occlusion plethysmography), skin (skin blood flow, laser Doppler), and subcutaneous adipose tissue blood flow (133Xe washout technique).

3. The absolute forearm area and the relative amount of fat (% of forearm area) were significantly higher in obese as compared to lean subjects, whereas the relative amounts of muscle and skin were similar.

4. During rest, the percentage contribution of adipose tissue blood flow to total forearm blood flow was significantly higher in lean compared with obese subjects (19 vs 12%, P < 0.05), whereas there were no differences in percentage contribution between both groups during isoprenaline infusion (10 vs 13%). Furthermore, the contribution of adipose tissue blood flow to total forearm blood flow was significantly lower during isoprenaline infusion than during rest in lean subjects (P < 0.05), whereas in the obese this value was similar during rest and during isoprenaline infusion.

5. In conclusion, although the overall contribution of adipose tissue blood flow to total forearm blood flow seems to be relatively small, the significance of this contribution may vary with degree of adiposity. Calculations on the contribution of adipose tissue blood flow and SBF to total forearm blood flow indicate that the contribution of non-muscular flow to total forearm blood flow may be of considerable importance and may amount in lean subjects to 35–50% of total forearm blood flow in the resting state.

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