Skip to main content

Volume 4 Supplement 4

2nd International Symposium on the Pathophysiology of Cardiopulmonary Bypass. Neurological complications after surgery

Pathophysiology of the cerebral circulation during cardiac surgery

Full text

Although mortality rate after cardiac surgery has been drastically reduced, neurological complications remain a significant problem. Several etiologic factors have been proposed, including previous unrecognized neurological abnormality, embolic events, hypoxic insult, low cardiac output, systemic inflammatory response, and altered cerebral blood flow (CBF) and metabolism. Cerebral ischemia can occur when cerebral oxygen is insufficient to meet the global or regional cerebral oxygen consumption. Cerebral circulation is normally regulated by several complex mechanisms, such as metabolic stimuli, chemical stimuli, perfusion pressure, and neural stimuli [1].

During and after cardiac surgery, CBF and metabolism can also be affected by other factors including arterial PCO2, temperature, anesthesia depth, and perfusion flow rate during cardiopulmonary bypass. As a consequence of the effects of anesthetic agents and hypothermia, CBF is generally reduced during cardiac surgery. Cerebral metabolic regulation refers to the mechanism describing the adaptation of CBF to the metabolic demands of the brain. Although CBF-metabolism coupling is fairly well maintained during cardiopulmonary bypass, cerebral metabolic rate for oxygen (CMRO2) decreases significantly more than CBF [3]. The increase in CBF to CO2 is preserved during hypothermic cardiopulmonary bypass, but the response can be diminished when using pH-stat management of blood gases due to the powerful vasodilator effect of CO2 on the cerebral vasculature [4]. Moderate changes in arterial PO2do not significantly alter CBF, but CBF increases once PaO2 drops below 50mmHg so that cerebral oxygen delivery remains constant.

Pressure autoregulation refers to the ability of the brain to maintain total and regional CBF nearly constant despite large changes in systemic arterial blood pressure, independently of flow-metabolism coupling [5]. Pressure autoregulation is generally preserved during hypothermic cardiopulmonary bypass. Impaired autoregulation has been reported mainly in pH-stat conditions due to increasing PaCO2. Interestingly, CBF and metabolismseem to be unaffected during pulsatile flow as compared with nonpulsatile flow during cardiopulmonary bypass [6]. Different data found by other investigators may be easily explained by changes in perfusion variables, such as temperature or PaCO2. Variation in the systemic flow rate from the pump oxygenator per se hardly influences CBF or CMRO2during hypothermic CPB [7]. Conflicting results reported by others are difficult to interpret because of confounding effects of differences in the management of CO2, and anesthetic and vasoactive drugs during hypothermic cardiopulmonary bypass. Since blood viscosity represents a major determinant of vascular resistance, CBF is inversely related to hematocrit. Nevertheless, a continuing controversy pertains to whether CBF is purely rheologic or a function of changes in oxygen delivery to the tissue.

In conclusion, CBF and CMRO2 drop during cardiac surgery due to combined effects of both anesthesia and hypothermia. Regulatory mechanisms of CBF are little affected by hypothermic cardiopulmonary bypass, but can be influenced by other determinants of cerebral perfusion.


  1. Young WL, Ornstein E: Cerebral and spinal cord blood flow. In: Anesthesia and Neurosurgery. Edited by Cottrell JE, Smith DS. St. Louis, MO: Mosby, 1994, 17-58.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Murkin JM, Farrar JK, Tweed WA, et al.: Cerebral autoregulation and flow/metabolism coupling during cardiopulmonary bypass: the influence of PaCO 2 . Anesth Analg 1987, 66: 825-832.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. Hindman BJ, Funatsu N, Harrington J, et al.: Cerebral blood flow response to PaCO 2 during hypothermic cardiopulmonary bypass in rabbits. Anesthesiology 1991, 75: 662-668. 10.1097/00000542-199110000-00017

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. Paulson OB, Strandgaard S, Edvinsson L: Cerebral autoregulation. Cerebrovasc Brain Metab Rev 1990, 2: 161-192.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Hindman BJ, Dexter F, Ryu KH, et al.: Pulsatile versus nonpulsatile cardiopulmonary bypass. No difference in brain blood flow or metabolism at 27 degrees C. Anesthesiology 1994, 80: 1137-1147. 10.1097/00000542-199405000-00023

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. Rogers AT, Prough DS, Roy RC, et al.: Cerebrovascular and cerebral metabolic effects of alterations in perfusion flow rate during hypothermic cardiopulmonary bypass in man. J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg 1992, 103: 363-368.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. Todd MM, Weeks JB, Warner DS: Cerebral blood flow, blood volume, and brain tissue hematocrit during isovolemic hemodilution with hetastarch in rats. Am J Physiol 1992, 263: H75-H82.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Berré, J. Pathophysiology of the cerebral circulation during cardiac surgery. Crit Care 4 (Suppl 4), L1 (2000).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • DOI: