European Journal of Applied Physiology

, Volume 118, Issue 5, pp 875–898 | Cite as

Open-circuit respirometry: real-time, laboratory-based systems

  • Susan A. Ward
Invited Review


This review explores the conceptual and technological factors integral to the development of laboratory-based, automated real-time open-circuit mixing-chamber and breath-by-breath (B × B) gas-exchange systems, together with considerations of assumptions and limitations. Advances in sensor technology, signal analysis, and digital computation led to the emergence of these technologies in the mid-20th century, at a time when investigators were beginning to recognise the interpretational advantages of nonsteady-state physiological-system interrogation in understanding the aetiology of exercise (in)tolerance in health, sport, and disease. Key milestones include the ‘Auchincloss’ description of an off-line system to estimate alveolar O2 uptake B × B during exercise. This was followed by the first descriptions of real-time automated O2 uptake and CO2 output B × B measurement by Beaver and colleagues and by Linnarsson and Lindborg, and mixing-chamber measurement by Wilmore and colleagues. Challenges to both approaches soon emerged: e.g., the influence of mixing-chamber washout kinetics on mixed-expired gas concentration determination, and B × B alignment of gas-concentration signals with respired flow. The challenging algorithmic and technical refinements required for gas-exchange estimation at the alveolar level have also been extensively explored. In conclusion, while the technology (both hardware and software) underpinning real-time automated gas-exchange measurement has progressively advanced, there are still concerns regarding accuracy especially under the challenging conditions of changing metabolic rate.


Sensors Signal analysis Algorithms Noise Exercise Kinetics Cardiopulmonary exercise testing 


B × B



Body temperature and pressure, saturated


Carbon dioxide


Cardiopulmonary exercise testing


End-expiratory lung volume


Breathing frequency

\({F_{\overline {{\text{E}}} }}{{\text{CO}}_2}\)

Mixed-expired CO2 fraction

\({F_{\overline {{\text{E}}} }}{{\text{N}}_2}\)

Mixed-expired N2 fraction

\({F_{\overline {{\text{E}}} }}{{\text{O}}_2}\)

Mixed-expired O2 fraction


End-tidal CO2 fraction


End-tidal O2 fraction


Inspired CO2 fraction


Inspired N2 fraction


Inspired O2 fraction


Functional residual capacity






Partial pressure of CO2


Alveolar partial pressure of CO2


Probability-density function


Water-vapour pressure


Partial pressure of O2


Alveolar partial pressure of O2


Respiratory exchange ratio


Standard deviation


Standard temperature and pressure, dry


Time constant






10–90% response time


Transport delay




Alveolar volume


Breathing valve volume

VCO2, st

Volume of lung CO2 stores

VN2, st

Volume of lung N2 stores

VO2, st

Volume of lung O2 stores


Tidal volume

\(\dot {v}\)

Instantaneous flow

\({\dot {V}_{\text{A}}}\)

Alveolar ventilation

\({\dot {V}_{\text{E}}}\)

Expired ventilation

\({\dot {V}_{\text{I}}}\)

Inspired ventilation

\({\dot {V}_{\text{E}}}/\dot {V}{\text{C}}{{\text{O}}_2}\)

Ventilatory equivalent for CO2

\({\dot {V}_{\text{E}}}/\dot {V}{{\text{O}}_2}\)

Ventilatory equivalent for O2

\(\dot {V}{\text{C}}{{\text{O}}_2}\)

Carbon dioxide output

\(\dot {V}{\text{C}}{{\text{O}}_{2A}}\)

Alveolar carbon dioxide output

\(\dot {V}{{\text{O}}_2}\)

Oxygen uptake

\(\dot {V}{{\text{O}}_{2A}}\)

Alveolar oxygen uptake


Work rate



I dedicate this article to the late Brian James Whipp PhD, DSc, to whom I remain indebted for his mentorship and collaboration in our journeys through kinetic analysis in exercise.

Author contributions

The author (SAW) was solely responsible for the preparation of this manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Human Bio-Energetics Research CentreCrickhowellUK

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