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Respiratory Physiology

Joyce King, CNM, Ph.D.

Primary Function

❚ The exchange of gases between the

environmental air and the blood.
❙ Ventilation
❙ Diffusion
❙ Perfusion
Nonrespiratory Functions of
the Respiratory System

❚ Water loss and heat elimination

❚ Warms and humidifies inspired air
❚ Enhances venous return
❚ Contributes to normal acid-base
❚ Enables speech, singing, etc.
Nonrespiratory Functions of
the Respiratory System

❚ Defends against inhaled foreign

❚ Removes, modifies, activates various
materials passing through the
pulmonary circulation.
❙ Inactivates prostaglandins
❙ Activates angiotensin II
❚ Nose - organ of smell
Structure of the
Respiratory System

❚ Respiratory airways
❙ Nasal passages
❙ Pharynx
❙ Trachea
❙ Bronchi
❙ Bronchioles
Structure of the
Respiratory System

❚ Lungs - left lung - 2 lobes; right lung

- 3 lobes
❙ Alveoli
❘ Type I alveolar cells
❘ Type II alveolar cells
❘ Alveolar macrophages
❘ Pores of Kohn
Alveolar fluid lining
with pulmonary surfactant Alveolar
Type II alveolar cell macrophage

Type I alveolar cell

Interstitial fluid


Structure of the
Respiratory System

❚ Lungs, contd.
❙ Pulmonary capillaries
❙ Elastic connective tissue
❙ Pleural sac
❚ Thorax
Respiratory Mechanics
Air moves from an area of high
pressure to an area of low
pressure, following the pressure
Respiratory Mechanics

❚ Pressure considerations
❙ Atmospheric pressure
❙ Intra-alveolar pressure
❙ Intrapleural pressure
Major Inspiratory Muscles

❚ Quiet breathing
❙ Diaphragm
❙ External intercostal muscles
❚ Deeper inspirations
❙ Accessory inspiratory muscles

❚ Inspiratory muscles relax

❚ Chest wall and lungs recoil
❚ Intra-alveolar pressure increases
❚ Air leaves the lungs

Expiration is normally a passive


For more complete and rapid

❙ Abdominal muscles
❙ Internal intercostal muscles
Airway Resistance

❚ Bronchoconstriction -
parasympathetic stimulation
❚ Bronchodilation - sympathetic
Airway Resistance
Lung Elasticity

❚ Elastic recoil and compliance

❙ Connective tissue
❙ Alveolar surface tension
Pulmonary Surfactant

❚ Secreted by Type II alveolar cells

❚ Reduces alveolar surface tension
❙ Increased pulmonary compliance
❙ Reduces the lungs tendency to recoil
Energy Expenditure is
Increased When:

❚ Pulmonary compliance is decreased

❚ Airway resistance is increased
❚ Elastic recoil is decreased
❚ There is need for increased
Lung Volumes

❚ Normal range:
❙ Male - 5.7 liters
❙ Female - 4.2 liters
❘ 500 ml of air are inspired and expired
❘ At end of quiet expiration, the lungs
still contain 2,200 ml of air
Lung Volumes

❚ Gas exchange continues during

❙ Maintains constant gas content
❙ Decreased energy utilization
Lung Volumes

❚ Tidal volume
❚ Residual volume
❚ Vital capacity
❚ Total lung capacity
❚ Forced expiratory volume in one
Alveolar Ventilation

❚ Pulmonary ventilation
❚ Respiratory Rate
❚ Anatomical dead space
❚ Alveolar ventilation
❚ Alveolar dead space
Local Regulation

Goal - Maximally match blood flow to


↓Airflow in comparison to blood flow →

↑ CO2 → relaxation of airway → ↑

↑ blood flow in comparison to air flow

→ ↓ O2 in alveolus and surrounding
tissues → vasoconstriction of
Gas Exchange

❚ Simple diffusion down partial

pressure gradients
Partial Pressure

The individual pressure exerted

independently by a particular gas
within a mixture of gases.
Partial Pressure

The air we breath exerts a total

atmospheric pressure of 760 mm Hg
(at sea level) and is composed of:
❙ 79% Nitrogen - PN2 = 760 mm Hg x .79 -
600 mm Hg
❙ 21% Oxygen - PO2 = 760 mm Hg x .21 =
160 mm Hg
❙ The partial pressure of CO2 is negligible
at 0.03 mm Hg
Amount of gas that dissolves in
blood depends on:

❚ Solubility of the gas in blood

❚ Partial pressure of the gas

The difference in partial pressure

between pulmonary blood and
alveolar air is known as a partial
pressure gradient.
Alveolar Air

❚ Inspired air is humidified - water vapor

❚ Fresh inspired air mixes with the large
volume of old air and the dead space -
at the end of each inspiration, less than
15% of the air in the alveoli is fresh air.

The average alveolar PO2 is 100 mm

O2 and CO2 Exchange

❚ Only small fluctuations occur in alveolar

PO2 throughout both inspiration and
❙ Small proportion of total air exchanged
❙ Oxygen rapidly moves down its partial
pressure gradient
O2 and CO2 Exchange

❙ Pulmonary blood PO2 equilibrates

with alveolar PO2
❙ PO2 of arterial blood is fairly
O2 and CO2 Exchange –
Alveoli Level

❚ Alveolar PCO2 also remains fairly

constant at 40 mm Hg.
❚ Partial pressures of gases favor the
movement of O2 from the alveoli into
the blood and CO2 from the blood
into the alveoli.
O2 and CO2 Exchange

❚ O2 uptake matches O2 use even

when O2 consumption increases due
to increased metabolism.
Rate of Diffusion

❚ Surface area
❚ Thickness of the membrane
❚ Diffusion coefficient of the particular
Rate of Diffusion

These factors are relatively constant

under resting conditions, therefore
the partial pressure is the primary
factor that determines rate of
O2 and CO2 Exchange –
Tissue Level

❚ Partial pressures of gases favor the

movement of O2 from the blood into
the adjacent cells and CO2 from the
cells into the capillary blood.
Gas Transport

❚ Oxygen
❙ Dissolved oxygen (1.5%)
❙ Chemically bound to hemoglobin

The PO2 of the blood is a

measurement only of the
dissolved oxygen.

❚ Four polypeptide chains

❚ Four iron-containing heme groups that
are able to combine with an O2

If Hb is carrying its maximum O2 load,

it is considered to be fully saturated.
Dissociation Curve

❚ Plateau portion
❙ Range that exists at the pulmonary

Note: Minimal reduction of oxygen

transported until the PO2 falls below
60 mm Hg.
Dissociation Curve

❚ Steep portion of the curve

❙ Range that exists at the systemic

A small drop in systemic capillary PO2

can result in the release of large
amounts of oxygen for the
metabolically active cells.

❚ Storage for oxygen

❚ Maintains a low PO2
❚ At the tissue level, as the PO2 falls the
Hb unloads some of its stored
Factors that Affect the Binding
of Hemoglobin and Oxygen

❚ Carbon dioxide
❚ Acidity
❚ Temperature

Bohr effect – Reduction in the

affinity of hemoglobin for oxygen in
response to an increase in blood
carbon dioxide and a decrease in pH.
Gas Transport

❚ Carbon Dioxide
❙ Dissolved CO2 (10%)
❙ Carbamino hemoglobin (30%)
❙ Bicarbonate (60%)
❙ Chloride shift

Haldane effect – the ability of

hemoglobin to pick up CO2 and CO2-
generated H+.
Control of Respiration

❚ Neural control
❚ Chemical stimuli
Neural Control

❚ Respiratory control centers housed

in the brain stem
❙ Inspiratory and expiratory neurons in
the medullary respiratory center
❘ Dorsal respiratory group
❘ Ventral respiratory group
❘ Rostral ventromedial medulla
Neural Control

❚ Respiratory control centers housed

in the brain stem, contd.
❙ Apneustic
❙ Pneumotaxic center
❚ Stretch receptors in the lung (Hering
Breuer reflex)
❙ Prevents overinflation of the lung
Neural Control

❚ Ventilation is matched to the body’s

needs for oxygen uptake and carbon
dioxide removal
❙ Medullary respiratory center receives
❙ Appropriate signals sent to motor
❙ Rate and depth of ventilation adjusted
Chemical Stimuli

❚ Arterial PO2
❚ Arterial PCO2
❚ Arterial H+
Arterial PO2

❚ Monitored by peripheral
❚ PO2 must fall below 60 mm Hg to
stimulate increased respiration
❚ Peripheral chemoreceptors respond
to the PO2 and not the total oxygen
Arterial PCO2

❚ Major regulator of ventilation under

resting conditions.
❚ CO2 crosses the blood-brain barrier
forming H+
Arterial PCO2

❚ Central chemoreceptors are

sensitive to changes in CO2-induced
H+ in the brain ECF
❚ An elevation of H+ stimulates
increased ventilation.
Arterial H+

❚ Monitored by aortic and carotid

body peripheral chemoreceptors
❚ Plays a role in adjusting ventilation
in response to alterations in arterial
H+ concentrations unrelated to
fluctuations in PCO2
Every day it’s the same old

Breathe, breathe, breathe

Respiratory Questions
Contraction of the abdominal
muscles is important in:
a. normal (quiet) inspiration
b. forced (maximum) inspiration
c. normal (quiet) expiration
d. forced (maximum) expiration
Respiratory Questions

Alveolar surfactant acts to increase

a. surface tension
b. compliance
c. airway resistance
d. blood flow
Respiratory Questions

At the top of a 3000 meter high mountain,

which of the following alveolar partial
pressures would be expected to be lower
than normal?
a. PA-O2
b. water vapor
c. PA-CO2
d. All of the above
d. Only a and b
Respiratory Questions

Compared with systemic arterial

blood, systemic venous blood has a
a. oxygen content
b. pH
c. bicarbonate ion concentration
d. hemoglobin concentration
Respiratory Questions

An oxyhemoglobin saturation of
systemic venous blood of 25% for a
person at rest is:
a. above normal
b. below normal
c. within the normal range
Respiratory Questions

As blood passes through systemic

capillaries, the enzyme carbonic
anhydrase catalyzes:
a. conversion of dissolved CO2 to carbonic
b. conversion of carbonic acid to
bicarbonate ion
c. binding of carbon dioxide to
hemoglobin, thus displacing oxygen
d. binding of hydrogen ions to