Neuronal Mechanisms of Oxygen Chemoreception: An Invertebrate Perspective

  • Tara A. Janes
  • Naweed I. SyedEmail author
Conference paper
Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB, volume 758)


Since the evolution of aerobic metabolism, cellular requirements for molecular oxygen have been the major driver for the development of sophisticated mechanisms underlying both invertebrate and vertebrate respiratory behaviour. Among the most important characteristics of respiration is its adaptability, which allows animals to maintain oxygen homeostasis over a wide range of environmental and metabolic conditions. In all animals, the respiratory behaviour is controlled by neural networks often termed respiratory central pattern generators (rCPG). While rCPG neurons are intrinsically capable of generating rhythmical outputs, the respiratory needs are generally “sensed” by either central or peripheral chemoreceptive neurons. The mechanisms by which chemoreceptors respond to changes in oxygen and modulate central respiratory control centers have been the focus of decades of research. However, our understanding of these mechanisms has been limited due to an inability to precisely locate oxygen chemoreceptor populations, combined with the overwhelming complexity of vertebrate neural circuits. Although mammalian models remain the gold standard for research in general, invertebrates do nevertheless offer greatly simplified neural networks that share fundamental similarities with vertebrates. The following review will provide evidence for the existence of oxygen chemoreceptors in many invertebrate groups and reveal the mechanisms by which these neurons may “perceive” environmental oxygen and drive central rCPG activity. For this, we will specifically highlight an invertebrate model, the pond snail Lymnaea stagnalis whose episodic respiratory behaviour resembles that of diving mammals. The rCPG neurons have been identified and fully characterized in this model both in vivo and in vitro. The Lymnaea respiratory network has also been reconstructed in vitro and the contributions of individual rCPG neurons towards rhythm generation characterized through direct intracellular recordings. We now provide evidence for the presence of genuine peripheral oxygen chemoreceptors in Lymnaea, and demonstrate that these neurons respond to hypoxia in a manner analogous to that of mammalian carotid bodies. These chemoreceptor cells not only drive the activity of the rCPG neurons but their synaptic connections also exhibit hypoxia-induced plasticity. The lessons learned from this model will likely reveal fundamental principles underlying both peripheral and central respiratory control mechanisms, which may be conserved in both invertebrate and vertebrate species.


Lymnaea Respiration Invertebrate Oxygen chemoreceptor Central pattern generator Hypoxia Neuron-chip interface 



This work was supported by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) grant awarded to N.I.S. The authors would like to acknowledge the excellent technical support provided by Mr. Wali Zaidi.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy and the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, Faculty of MedicineUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada

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