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Two experiments carried out on rat skin flaps are described, where microvascular flow has been measured noninvasively by a laser Doppler velocimeter. Using this technique it is possible to define the limits of an axial pattern flap in terms of microvascular flow; this was found to increase when the flap is elevated. 'Random-pattern' perfusion is defined by a fall in flow. This recovers sequentially along the flap, and at a constant rate at all sites. A differential in microvascular perfusion is thus maintained along a random-pattern flap for at least the first postoperative week. In a second experiment it is shown that there appears to be a linear relationship between the reduction in skin blood flow in a random-pattern flap and the distance from the base at which the measurements are made. It is suggested that these data support the view that the blood flow in a skin flap recovers primarily from its base rather than via peripheral neovascularization, and that this is due to vascular collaterals opening within the flap rather than to a relaxation of sympathetic tone.