Cookies on this website
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Continue' we will assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you will not see this message again. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

The mechanism of oxygen sensing in arterial chemoreceptors is unknown but has often been linked to mitochondrial function. A common criticism of this hypothesis is that mitochondrial function is insensitive to physiological levels of hypoxia. Here we investigate the effects of hypoxia (down to 0.5% O2) on mitochondrial function in neonatal rat type-1 cells. The oxygen sensitivity of mitochondrial [NADH] was assessed by monitoring autofluorescence and increased in hypoxia with a P50 of 15 mm Hg (1 mm Hg = 133.3 Pa) in normal Tyrode or 46 mm Hg in Ca(2+)-free Tyrode. Hypoxia also depolarised mitochondrial membrane potential (m, measured using rhodamine 123) with a P50 of 3.1, 3.3 and 2.8 mm Hg in normal Tyrode, Ca(2+)-free Tyrode and Tyrode containing the Ca(2+) channel antagonist Ni(2+), respectively. In the presence of oligomycin and low carbonyl cyanide 4-(trifluoromethoxy) phenylhydrazone (FCCP; 75 nm) m is maintained by electron transport working against an artificial proton leak. Under these conditions hypoxia depolarised m/inhibited electron transport with a P50 of 5.4 mm Hg. The effects of hypoxia upon cytochrome oxidase activity were investigated using rotenone, myxothiazol, antimycin A, oligomycin, ascorbate and the electron donor tetramethyl-p-phenylenediamine. Under these conditions m is maintained by complex IV activity alone. Hypoxia inhibited cytochrome oxidase activity (depolarised m) with a P50 of 2.6 mm Hg. In contrast hypoxia had little or no effect upon NADH (P50 = 0.3 mm Hg), electron transport or cytochrome oxidase activity in sympathetic neurons. In summary, type-1 cell mitochondria display extraordinary oxygen sensitivity commensurate with a role in oxygen sensing. The reasons for this highly unusual behaviour are as yet unexplained.

Original publication




Journal article


J Physiol

Publication Date





3549 - 3563


Animals, Animals, Newborn, Anoxia, Calcium, Carotid Arteries, Carotid Body, Electron Transport, In Vitro Techniques, Membrane Potential, Mitochondrial, Mitochondria, NAD, Neurons, Oxygen, Rats, Superior Cervical Ganglion