Control of Respiration

Page 1.  Introduction

The basic rhythm of breathing is controlled by respiratory centers located in the brainstem.

This rhythm is modified in response to input from sensory receptors and from other regions of the brain.

Page 2.  Goals

To understand how the respiratory centers control breathing to maintain homeostasis.

To examine how PCO2, pH, PO2, and other factors affect ventilation.

To understand the relationship between breathing and blood pH.

To explore the factors which stimulate increased ventilation during exercise.

Page 3.  Homeostasis and the Control of Respiration

Fill out the chart to the right as you proceed through this page.

The control of respiration is tied to the principle of homeostasis. 

Recall that the body maintains homeostasis through homeostatic control mechanisms, which have three basic components:

1. receptors

2. control centers

3. effectors

The principal factors which control respiration are chemical factors in the blood.

Changes in arterial PCO2, PO2 and pH are monitored by sensory receptors called chemoreceptors.

The chemoreceptors send sensory input to respiratory centers in the brainstem, which determine the appropriate response to the changing variables.

These centers then send nerve impulses to the effectors, the respiratory muscles, to control the force and frequency of contraction.

This changes the ventilation, the rate and depth of breathing.

Ventilation changes restore the arterial blood gases and pH to their normal range.

 

 

Page 4.  Inspiratory Center

Label the diagram to the right.

The basic rhythm of breathing is controlled by respiratory centers located in the medulla and pons of the brainstem.

Within the medulla, a paired group of neurons known as the inspiratory center, or the dorsal respiratory group, sets the basic rhythm by automatically initiating inspiration.

The inspiratory center sends nerve impulses along the phrenic nerve to the diaphragm and along the intercostal nerves to the external intercostal muscles.

The nerve impulses to the diaphragm and the external intercostal muscles continue for a period of about 2 seconds. This stimulates the inspiratory muscles to contract, initiating inspiration.

 The neurons stop firing for about 3 seconds, which allows the muscles to relax. The elastic recoil of the lungs and chest wall leads to expiration.

This automatic, rhythmic firing produces the normal resting breathing rate, ranging between 12 and 15 breaths per minute.

Label this diagram:

 

 

 

 

Page 8.  Predict the Effect of Increased PCO2

Fill in the diagram to the right:

What will happen to the breathing rate and depth if the arterial PCO2 increases?

An increase in the PCO2 in the blood leads to an increase in hydrogen ions in the cerebrospinal fluid, decreasing the pH.

The central chemoreceptors fire more frequently, sending more nerve impulses to the respiratory centers, which in turn send more nerve impulses to the respiratory muscles.

This results in an increased breathing rate and depth, allowing more carbon dioxide to be exhaled, returning the blood PCO2 to normal levels.

 

 

 

Page 9.  Peripheral Chemoreceptors: Effect of pH Changes

The peripheral chemoreceptors also respond to pH changes caused by PCO2 changes, however they directly monitor changes in the arterial blood, not the cerebrospinal fluid as the central chemoreceptors do.

The role of the peripheral chemoreceptors:

Increased carbon dioxide levels in the arterial blood result in decreased blood pH, which stimulates the peripheral chemoreceptors.

They respond by sending more nerve impulses to the respiratory centers, which stimulate the respiratory muscles, causing faster and deeper breathing.

More carbon dioxide is exhaled, which drives the chemical reaction to the left and returns the PCO2 and pH to normal levels.

Fill in the diagram to the right:

The peripheral chemoreceptors also respond to acids such as lactic acid, which is produced during strenuous exercise:

Active muscles produce lactic acid, which enters the blood, releases hydrogen ions, and lowers the pH.

The decreased pH stimulates the peripheral chemoreceptors to send more nerve impulses to the respiratory centers, which stimulate the respiratory muscles to increase the breathing rate and depth.

More carbon dioxide is exhaled, lowering the PCO2 in blood, driving the chemical reaction to the left, and lowering hydrogen ion levels.

 

 

Page 11.  Hyperventilation

 

What changes will occur if a person hyperventilates, that is, breathes deeper and faster than necessary for normal gas exchange?

During hyperventilation, carbon dioxide is exhaled, lowering the PCO2.

This drives the chemical reaction to the left, decreasing the hydrogen ion concentration, and increasing pH:

CO2 + H2O H2CO3 H+ +  HCO3-

 

Since the PCO2 is low, the central chemoreceptors send fewer impulses to the respiratory centers.

Since the pH is high, the peripheral chemoreceptors also send fewer impulses to the respiratory centers, which send fewer nerve impulses to the respiratory muscles, thereby further decreasing breathing rate and depth and returning the arterial gases and pH to normal levels.

 

 

 

Hyperventilation does not normally cause an increase in the oxygen levels in the blood, because oxygen is poorly soluble in blood and normally hemoglobin in arterial blood is saturated with oxygen already.

 

Page 12.  Hypoventilation

Now predict what changes will occur if a person hypoventilates.

Hypoventilation occurs when the breathing rate and depth is too low to maintain normal blood gas levels.

During hypoventilation, not enough oxygen is inhaled, so the PO2 decreases. In addition, carbon dioxide builds up in the blood, increasing the PCO2.  This drives the chemical reaction to the right, increasing the H+ concentration and decreasing pH.

The PO2 drops, but not enough to stimulate the peripheral chemoreceptors.

The high PCO2 stimulates the central chemoreceptors to send more impulses to the respiratory centers.

A decrease in pH stimulates the peripheral chemoreceptors, which also send more nerve impulses to the respiratory centers, which stimulate the respiratory muscles, increasing the breathing rate and depth.

This allows oxygen to be inhaled, carbon dioxide to be exhaled, and drives the chemical reaction to the left, returning the arterial gases and pH to normal levels.

 

Page 13.  Summary: Effects of PO2, pH, and PCO2

This chart summarizes how the three major chemical factors - PO2, pH, and PCO2 - modify breathing rate and depth. 

When the PO2 drops below 60 millimeters of mercury, the peripheral chemoreceptors send nerve impulses to the respiratory centers. The respiratory centers send nerve impulses to the respiratory muscles, increasing ventilation. More oxygen is inhaled, returning the PO2 to normal levels.

When cells release acids into the blood, the acids release hydrogen ions, which lower the pH. This stimulates the peripheral chemoreceptors to send more nerve impulses to the respiratory centers. They, in turn, send more nerve impulses to the respiratory muscles, increasing ventilation. More carbon dioxide is exhaled, which returns the pH to normal levels.

An increase in PCO2 leads to a decreased pH in the blood, which stimulates the peripheral chemoreceptors to send more nerve impulses to the respiratory centers. In addition, the increased PCO2 leads to a decreased pH within the cerebrospinal fluid of the fourth ventricle. This stimulates the central chemoreceptors to send more nerve impulses to the respiratory centers. The respiratory centers send more nerve impulses to the respiratory muscles, which increase breathing rate and depth. More carbon dioxide is exhaled, returning the PCO2 and pH to normal levels.  

Page 14.  Other Factors Which Influence Ventilation

Several other factors influence ventilation. These factors include:

1. Voluntary control.

By sending signals from the cerebral cortex to the respiratory muscles, we can voluntarily change our breathing rate and depth when holding our breath, speaking, or singing.

However, chemoreceptor input to the respiratory centers will eventually override conscious control and force you to breathe.

2. Pain and emotions.

Pain and strong emotions, such as fear and anxiety, act by way of the hypothalamus to stimulate or inhibit the respiratory centers.

Laughing and crying also significantly alter ventilation.

3. Pulmonary irritants.

Dust, smoke, noxious fumes, excess mucus and other irritants stimulate receptors in the airways.

This initiates protective reflexes, such as coughing and sneezing, which forcibly remove the irritants from the airway.

4. Lung hyperinflation.

Stretch receptors in the visceral pleura and large airways send inhibitory signals to the inspiratory center during very deep inspirations, protecting against excessive stretching of the lungs. This is known as the inflation, or Hering-Breuer, reflex.

Page 15.  Exercise and Ventilation

Changes in ventilation during exercise:

Ventilation increases during strenuous exercise, with the depth increasing more than the rate.

It appears that changes in PCO2 and PO2 do not play a significant role in stimulating this increased ventilation.

Although the precise factors which stimulate increased ventilation during exercise are not fully understood, they probably include:

1. Learned responses.

Ventilation increases within seconds of the beginning of exercise, probably in anticipation of exercise, a learned response.

2. Neural input from the motor cortex.

The motor areas of the cerebral cortex which stimulate the muscles also stimulate the respiratory centers.

3. Receptors in muscles and joints.

Proprioceptors in moving muscles and joints stimulate the respiratory centers.

4. Increased body temperature.

An increase in body temperature stimulates the respiratory centers.

5. Circulating epinephrine and norepinephrine.

Circulating epinephrine and norepinephrine secreted by the adrenal medulla stimulates the respiratory centers.

6. pH changes due to lactic acid

Lactic acid, produced by exercising muscles, is another stimulus.

Page 16.  Summary

The basic rhythm of breathing is set by the inspiratory center, located in the medulla. Other respiratory centers, located in the medulla and pons, also control breathing.

Chemoreceptors monitor the PCO2, pH, and PO2 of arterial blood and alter the basic rhythm of breathing.

Carbon dioxide, reflected by changes in pH, is the most important stimulus controlling ventilation.

pH changes due to metabolic acids also alter ventilation.

Oxygen stimulates ventilation only when the blood PO2 is very low.

Other factors, such as voluntary control, pain and emotions, pulmonary irritants, and lung hyperinflation, also play roles in controlling ventilation.

The control of ventilation during exercise, while complex and not fully understood, involves multiple inputs including chemical and neural factors.