Neuronal energy demand during synaptic activity is met by increasing local blood flow, a process which is known as functional hyperemia or neurovascular coupling. Though extensively studied in recent years, the cellular mechanisms controlling functional hyperemia remain unclear. Majority of the field has focussed on interactions between neurons, astrocytes and arterioles, but new evidence suggests that vascular pericytes may regulate cerebral blood flow at the capillary level. However, little is known about pericyte cellular signaling, particularly during neurovascular coupling in vivo.
Our group has long-standing experience with the study of vascular hemodynamics and we are currently employing novel mouse models and new genetic indicator/optogenetic tools to investigate the effects of pericyte tone on brain capillary blood flow in vivo. We are also investigating pericyte cellular signaling events during contraction or relaxation and possible communication between pericytes and other brain cells. We are also currently examining pericyte structure through electron microscopy techniques. This work will help to clarify the involvement of pericytes in neurovascular coupling and may open new avenues of research in disease.