Vascular pressure reactivity is the ability of vascular smooth muscle to respond to changes in transmural pressure. In the cerebral circulation this reactivity - or autoregulation - limits cerebral blood flow variation over a range of cerebral perfusion pressures ensuring adequate perfusion and oxygenation to the brain.
In adults cerebrovascular pressure reactivity can be determined by observing the response of intracranial pressure (ICP) to changes in mean arterial blood pressure. Non-invasive techniques such as transcranial Doppler ultrasound and near-infrared spectroscopy have been validated against ICP measurements, which have enabled continuous assessment of cerebral autoregulation to be investigated in newborn infants.
A number of different techniques have been described, including static and dynamic measurements and analysis in the time and frequency domain, yet despite many years of research the characteristics of cerebral autoregulation in the newborn are still not clear.
Both the presence and limits of autoregulation has been much debated although there is increasing evidence that autoregulation, while present in healthy infants, is impaired in sick term and preterm neonates and that this impairment may be a predictor of poor outcome.
In clinical practice there is a reliance on blood pressure measurements alone to make informed clinical decisions, which ignores the complex circulatory control mechanisms that exist to optimize oxygen delivery to the brain. The ability to obtain continuous quantitative information on cerebral autoregulation at the cotsie would represent a significant advance in the management of these patients.
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