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The identity of the oxygen sensor in arterial chemoreceptors has been the subject of much speculation. One of the oldest hypotheses is that oxygen is sensed through oxidative phosphorylation. There is a wealth of data demonstrating that arterial chemoreceptors are excited by inhibitors of oxidative phosphorylation. These compounds mimic the effects of hypoxia inhibiting TASK1/3 potassium channels causing membrane depolarisation calcium influx and neurosecretion. The TASK channels of Type-I cells are also sensitive to cytosolic MgATP. The existence of a metabolic signalling pathway in Type-1 cells is thus established; the contentious issue is whether this pathway is also used for acute oxygen sensing. The main criticism is that because cytochrome oxidase has a high affinity for oxygen (P50 ≈ 0.2 mmHg) mitochondrial metabolism should be insensitive to physiological hypoxia. This argument is however predicated on the assumption that chemoreceptor mitochondria are analogous to those of other tissues. We have however obtained new evidence to support the hypothesis that type-1 cell mitochondria are not like those of other cells in that they have an unusually low affinity for oxygen (Mills E, Jobsis FF, J Neurophysiol 35(4):405-428, 1972; Duchen MR, Biscoe TJ, J Physiol 450:13-31, 1992a). Our data confirm that mitochondrial membrane potential, NADH, electron transport and cytochrome oxidase activity in the Type-1 cell are all highly sensitive to hypoxia. These observations not only provide exceptionally strong support for the metabolic hypothesis but also reveal an unknown side of mitochondrial behaviour.

Original publication





Publication Date





69 - 80


Animals, Carotid Body, Humans, Hydrogen Sulfide, Ion Channels, Mitochondria, Oxygen