Abstract

How neuronal activity changes cerebral blood flow is of biological and practical importance. The rodent whisker-barrel system has special merits as a model for studies of changes in local cerebral blood flow (LCBF). Stimulus-evoked changes in neural firing and ‘intrinsic signals’ recorded through a cranial window were used to define regions of interest for repeated flow measurements. Whisker-activated changes in flow were measured with intravascular markers at the pia. LCBF changes were always prompt and localized over the appropriate barrel. Stimulus-related changes in parenchymal flow monitored continuously with H2 electrodes recorded short latency flow changes initiated in middle cortical layers. Activation that increased flow to particular barrels often led to reduced flow to adjacent cortex. Dye was injected into single penetrating arterioles from the pia of the fixed brain and injected into arterioles in slices of cortex where barrels were evident without stains. Arteriolar and venular domains at the surface were not directly related to underlying barrels. Capillary tufts in layer IV were mainly coincident with barrels. The matching between a capillary plexus (a vascular module) and a barrel (a functional neuronal unit) is a spatial organization of neurons and blood vessels that optimizes local interactions between the two. The paths of communication probably include: neurons to neurons, neurons to glia, neurons to vessels, glia to vessels, vessels to vessels and vessels to brain. Matching a functional grouping of neurons with a vascular module is an elegant means of reducing the risk of embarrassment for energy-expensive neuronal activity (ion pumping) while minimizing energy spent for delivery of the energy (cardiac output). For imaging studies this organization sets biological limits to spatial, temporal and magnitude resolution. Reduced flow to nearby inactive cortex enhances local differences.