There is a considerable discrepancy between oxygen supply and demand in the liver because hepatic oxygen consumption is relatively high but about 70% of the hepatic blood supply is poorly oxygenated portal vein blood derived from the gastrointestinal tract and spleen. Oxygen is delivered to hepatocytes by blood flowing from a terminal branch of the portal vein to a central venule via sinusoids, and this makes an oxygen gradient in hepatic lobules. The oxygen gradient is an important physical parameter that involves the expression of enzymes upstream and downstream in hepatic microcirculation, but the lack of techniques for measuring oxygen consumption in the hepatic microcirculation has delayed the elucidation of mechanisms relating to oxygen metabolism in liver. We therefore used FITC-labeled erythrocytes to visualize the hepatic microcirculation and used laser-assisted phosphorimetry to measure the partial pressure of oxygen in the microvessels there. Noncontact and continuous optical measurement can quantify blood flow velocities, vessel diameters, and oxygen gradients related to oxygen consumption in the liver. In an acute hepatitis model we made by administering acetaminophen to mice we observed increased oxygen pressure in both portal and central venules but a decreased oxygen gradient in the sinusoids, indicating that hepatocyte necrosis in the pericentral zone could shift the oxygen pressure up and affect enzyme expression in the periportal zone. In conclusion, our optical methods for measuring hepatic hemodynamics and oxygen consumption can reveal mechanisms related to hepatic disease.
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