Peripheral Chemoreceptors in Air- Versus Water- Breathers

  • Michael G. JonzEmail author
  • Colin A. Nurse
Conference paper
Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB, volume 758)


Among the vertebrates, peripheral chemoreceptors have evolved to play a key role in matching oxygen delivery to the metabolic needs of the body cells and tissues. Specialized neuroepithelial cells (NECs) distributed within the gill filaments and/or lamellae of water-breathers appear to subserve this function by initiating an increase in ventilation in response to lowering of blood or water PO2 (hypoxia). It is only recently, however, that these cells have become amenable for detailed investigations using electrophysiological tools. By contrast, the well-studied specialized neuroendocrine cells (i.e. glomus or type I cells) located principally in the carotid body of air-breathers initiate a similar reflex ventilatory response to hypoxia so as to maintain blood PO2 homeostasis. In some species, however, the carotid body is immature and relatively insensitive to hypoxia at birth; it is during this period that their sympathoadrenal counterparts in the adrenal medulla act as key PO2 receptors, critical for the proper transition to air-breathing life. It is becoming increasingly clear that in general these chemoreceptors act as polymodal receptors, i.e. capable of detecting several sensory modalities including high CO2/H+ or acid hypercapnia. Given the phylogenetic and ontogenetic evidence pointing to homology between the mammalian carotid artery and the first gill arch of teleosts, the question arises whether the mechanisms of chemosensing are conserved among these cell types. This review examines some of the anatomical and functional similarities among these peripheral chemoreceptors, while raising the possibility that the fundamental mechanisms of O2 and CO2/H+ sensing arose first in water-breathers and are conserved among the vertebrates.


Fish gill O2 and CO2/H+ receptors Carotid body Adrenal medulla K+ current 



MGJ is supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). CAN received support from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, NSERC, and Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada
  2. 2.Department of BiologyMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada

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