The regulation of blood flow to skeletal muscle involves a complex interaction between several locally formed vasodilators that are produced both in the skeletal muscle interstitium and intravascularly. The gas nitric oxide (NO) and the purines ATP and adenosine, are potent vasodilators that are formed by multiple cell types and released into the skeletal muscle interstitium and in plasma in response to muscle contraction. Cellular sources of ATP and NO in plasma are erythrocytes and endothelial cells, whereas interstitial sources are skeletal muscle cells and endothelial cells. Adenosine originates primarily from extracellular degradation of ATP. During exercise the concentrations of ATP and adenosine increase markedly in the interstitium with smaller increases occurring in plasma, and thus the interstitial concentration during exercise is severalfold higher than in plasma. The concentration of NO metabolites (NOx) in interstitium and plasma does not change during exercise and is similar in the two compartments. Adenosine and NO have been shown to contribute to exercise hyperaemia whereas the role of ATP remains unclear due to lack of specific purinergic receptor blockers. The relative role of intravascular versus interstitial vasodilators is not known but evidence suggests that both compartments are important. In cardiovascular disease, a reduced capacity to form adenosine in the muscle interstitium may be a contributing factor in increased peripheral vascular resistance.
Hellsten, Y., Nyberg, M., & Mortensen, S. (2012). Contribution of intravascular versus interstitial purines and nitric oxide in the regulation of exercise hyperaemia in humans. Journal of Physiology, 590(Pt 20), 5015-23. https://doi.org/10.1113/jphysiol.2012.234963