Elevated extracellular potassium prior to muscle contraction reduces onset and steady-state exercise hyperemia in humans

Janée D. Terwoord, Christopher M. Hearon, Gary J. Luckasen, Jennifer C. Richards, Michael J. Joyner, Frank A. Dinenno

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The increase in interstitial potassium (K+) during muscle contractions is thought to be a vasodilatory signal that contributes to exercise hyperemia. To determine the role of extracellular K+ in exercise hyperemia, we perfused skeletal muscle with K+ before contractions, such that the effect of any endogenously-released K+ would be minimized. We tested the hypothesis that local, intra-arterial infusion of potassium chloride (KCl) at rest would impair vasodilation in response to subsequent rhythmic handgrip exercise in humans. In 11 young adults, we determined forearm blood flow (FBF) (Doppler ultrasound) and forearm vascular conductance (FVC) (FBF/mean arterial pressure) during 4 min of rhythmic handgrip exercise at 10% of maximal voluntary contraction during 1) control conditions, 2) infusion of KCl before the initiation of exercise, and 3) infusion of sodium nitroprusside (SNP) as a control vasodilator. Infusion of KCl or SNP elevated resting FVC similarly before the onset of exercise (control: 39 ± 6 vs. KCl: 81 ± 12 and SNP: 82 ± 13 ml·min-1·100 mmHg-1; both P < 0.05 vs. control). Infusion of KCl at rest diminished the hyperemic (ΔFBF) and vasodilatory (ΔFVC) response to subsequent exercise by 22 ± 5% and 30 ± 5%, respectively (both P < 0.05 vs. control), whereas SNP did not affect the change in FBF (P = 0.74 vs. control) or FVC (P = 0.61 vs. control) from rest to steady-state exercise. These findings implicate the K+ ion as an essential vasodilator substance contributing to exercise hyperemia in humans. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Our findings support a significant and obligatory role for potassium signaling in the local vasodilatory and hyperemic response to exercise in humans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)615-623
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of applied physiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2018


  • Blood flow
  • Exercise hyperemia
  • Potassium
  • Vasodilation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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