Angleys, Østergaard (2020) Krogh's capillary recruitment hypothesis, 100 years on: Is the opening of previously closed capillaries necessary to ensure muscle oxygenation during exercise? American journal of physiology. Heart and circulatory physiology 318(2) H425-H447
In 1919, August Krogh published his seminal work on skeletal muscle oxygenation. Krogh's observations indicated that muscle capillary diameter is actively regulated, rather than a passive result of arterial blood flow regulation. Indeed, combining a mathematical model with the number of ink-filled capillaries he observed in muscle cross sections taken at different workloads, Krogh was able to account for muscle tissue's remarkably efficient oxygen extraction during exercise in terms of passive diffusion from nearby capillaries. Krogh was awarded the 1920 Nobel Prize for his account of muscle oxygenation. Today, his observations are engrained in the notion of capillary recruitment: the opening of previously closed capillaries. While the binary distinction between "closed" and "open" was key to Krogh's model argument, he did in fact report a continuum of capillary diameters, degrees of erythrocyte deformation, and perfusion states. Indeed, modern observations question the presence of closed muscle capillaries. We therefore examined whether changes in capillary flow patterns and hematocrit among open capillaries can account for oxygen extraction in muscle across orders-of-magnitude changes in blood flow. Our four-compartment model of oxygen extraction in muscle confirms this notion and provides a framework for quantifying the impact of changes in microvascular function on muscle oxygenation in health and disease. Our results underscore the importance of capillary function for oxygen extraction in muscle tissue as first proposed by Krogh. While Krogh's model calculations still hold, our model predictions support that capillary recruitment can be viewed in the context of continuous, rather than binary, erythrocyte distributions among capillaries.NEW & NOTEWORTHY Oxygen extraction in working muscle is extremely efficient in view of single capillaries properties. The underlying mechanisms have been widely debated. Here, we develop a four-compartment model to quantify the influence of each of the hypothesized mechanisms on muscle oxygenation. Our results show that changes in capillary flow pattern and hematocrit can account for the high oxygen extraction observed in working muscle, while capillary recruitment is not required to account for these extraction properties.