Oxygen is essential to maintaining normal brain function. A large body of evidence suggests that the partial pressure of oxygen (pO2) in brain tissue is physiologically maintained within a narrow range in accordance with region-specific brain activity. Since the transportation of oxygen in the brain tissue is mainly driven by a diffusion process caused by a concentration gradient of oxygen from blood to cells, the spatial organization of the vascular system, in which the oxygen content is higher than in tissue, is a key factor for maintaining effective transportation. In addition, a local mechanism that controls energy demand and blood flow supply plays a critical role in moment-to-moment adjustment of tissue pO2 in response to dynamically varying brain activity. In this review, we discuss the spatiotemporal structures of brain tissue oxygen transport in relation to local brain activity based on recent reports of tissue pO2 measurements with polarographic oxygen microsensors in combination with simultaneous recordings of neural activity and local cerebral blood flow in anesthetized animal models. Although a physiological mechanism of oxygen level sensing and control of oxygen transport remains largely unknown, theoretical models of oxygen transport are a powerful tool for better understanding the short-term and long-term effects of local changes in oxygen demand and supply. Finally, emerging new techniques for three-dimensional imaging of the spatiotemporal dynamics of pO2 map may enable us to provide a whole picture of how the physiological system controls the balance between demand and supply of oxygen during both normal and pathological brain activity.
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