Vasodilation is the widening of blood vessels. It results from relaxation of smooth muscle cells within the vessel walls, in particular in the large veins, large arteries, and smaller arterioles. The process is the opposite of vasoconstriction, which is the narrowing of blood vessels. Vasodilation is the widening of blood vessels. It results from relaxation of smooth muscle cells within the vessel walls, in particular in the large veins, large arteries, and smaller arterioles. The process is the opposite of vasoconstriction, which is the narrowing of blood vessels. When blood vessels dilate, the flow of blood is increased due to a decrease in vascular resistance and increase in cardiac output. Therefore, dilation of arterial blood vessels (mainly the arterioles) decreases blood pressure. The response may be intrinsic (due to local processes in the surrounding tissue) or extrinsic (due to hormones or the nervous system). In addition, the response may be localized to a specific organ (depending on the metabolic needs of a particular tissue, as during strenuous exercise), or it may be systemic (seen throughout the entire systemic circulation). Endogenous substances and drugs that cause vasodilation are termed vasodilators. Such vasoactivity is necessary for homeostasis (keeping the body running normally). The primary function of vasodilation is to increase blood flow in the body to tissues that need it most. This is often in response to a localized need for oxygen but can occur when the tissue in question is not receiving enough glucose, lipids, or other nutrients. Localized tissues have multiple ways to increase blood flow, including releasing vasodilators, primarily adenosine, into the local interstitial fluid, which diffuses to capillary beds, provoking local vasodilation. Some physiologists have suggested that it is the lack of oxygen itself that causes capillary beds to vasodilate by the smooth muscle hypoxia of the vessels in the region. This latter hypothesis is posited due to the presence of precapillary sphincters in capillary beds. These approaches to the mechanism of vasodilation are not mutually exclusive. Vasodilation directly affects the relationship between mean arterial pressure, cardiac output, and total peripheral resistance (TPR). Vasodilation occurs in the time phase of cardiac systole, whereas vasoconstriction follows in the opposite time phase of cardiac diastole. Cardiac output (blood flow measured in volume per unit time) is computed by multiplying the heart rate (in beats per minute) and the stroke volume (the volume of blood ejected during ventricular systole). TPR depends on several factors, including the length of the vessel, the viscosity of blood (determined by hematocrit) and the diameter of the blood vessel. The latter is the most important variable in determining resistance, with the TPR changing by the fourth power of theradius. An increase in either of these physiological components (cardiac output or TPR) causes a rise in the mean arterial pressure. Vasodilation works to decrease TPR and blood pressure through relaxation of smooth muscle cells in the tunica media layer of large arteries and smaller arterioles. Vasodilation occurs in superficial blood vessels of warm-blooded animals when their ambient environment is hot; this process diverts the flow of heated blood to the skin of the animal, where heat can be more easily released to the atmosphere. The opposite physiological process is vasoconstriction. These processes are naturally modulated by local paracrine agents from endothelial cells (e.g., nitric oxide, bradykinin, potassium ions, and adenosine), as well as an organism's autonomic nervous system and adrenal glands, both of which secrete catecholamines such as norepinephrine and epinephrine, respectively. Vasodilation is the result of relaxation in smooth muscle surrounding the blood vessels. This relaxation, in turn, relies on removing the stimulus for contraction, which depends on intracellular calcium ion concentrations and is tightly linked with phosphorylation of the light chain of the contractile protein myosin. Thus, vasodilation works mainly either by lowering intracellular calcium concentration or by dephosphorylation (really substitution of ATP for ADP) of myosin. Dephosphorylation by myosin light-chain phosphatase and induction of calcium symporters and antiporters that pump calcium ions out of the intracellular compartment both contribute to smooth muscle cell relaxation and therefore vasodilation. This is accomplished through reuptake of ions into the sarcoplasmic reticulum via exchangers and expulsion across the plasma membrane. There are three main intracellular stimuli that can result in the vasodilation of blood vessels. The specific mechanisms to accomplish these effects vary from vasodilator to vasodilator. PDE5 inhibitors and potassium channel openers can also have similar results. Compounds that mediate the above mechanisms may be grouped as endogenous and exogenous.