Dissociating the effects of oxygen pressure and content on the control of breathing and acute hypoxic response

Paolo B. Dominelli, Sarah E. Baker, Chad C. Wiggins, Glenn M. Stewart, Pavol Sajgalik, John R.A. Shepherd, Shelly K. Roberts, Tuhin K. Roy, Timothy B. Curry, James D. Hoyer, Jennifer L. Oliveira, Glen E. Foster, Michael J. Joyner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Arterial oxygen tension and oxyhemoglobin saturation (SaO2 ) decrease in parallel during hypoxia. Distinguishing between changes in oxygen tension and oxygen content as the relevant physiological stimulus for cardiorespiratory alterations remains challenging. To overcome this, we recruited nine individuals with hemoglobinopathy manifesting as highaffinity hemoglobin [HAH; partial pressure at 50% SaO2 (P50) = 16 ± 0.4 mmHg] causing greater SaO2 at a given oxygen partial pressure compared with control subjects (n = 12, P50 = 26 ± 0.4 mmHg). We assessed ventilatory and cardiovascular responses to acute isocapnic hypoxia, iso-oxic hypercapnia, and 20 min of isocapnic hypoxia (arterial PO2 = 50 mmHg). Blood gas alterations were achieved with dynamic end-tidal forcing. When expressed as a function of the logarithm of oxygen partial pressure, ventilatory sensitivity to hypoxia was not different between groups. However, there was a significant difference when expressed as a function of SaO2 . Conversely, the rise in heart rate was blunted in HAH subjects when expressed as a function of partial pressure but similar when expressed as a function of SaO2. Ventilatory sensitivity to hypercapnia was not different between groups. During sustained isocapnic hypoxia, the rise in minute ventilation was similar between groups; however, heart rate was significantly greater in the controls during 3 to 9 min of exposure. Our results support the notion that oxygen tension, not content, alters cellular PO2 in the chemosensors and drives the hypoxic ventilatory response. Our study suggests that in addition to oxygen partial pressure, oxygen content may also influence the heart rate response to hypoxia. NEW & NOTEWORTHY We dissociated the effects of oxygen content and pressure of cardiorespiratory regulation studying individuals with high-affinity hemoglobin (HAH). During hypoxia, the ventilatory response, expressed as a function of oxygen tension, was similar between HAH variants and controls; however, the rise in heart rate was blunted in the variants. Our work supports the notion that the hypoxic ventilatory response is regulated by oxygen tension, whereas cardiovascular regulation may be influenced by arterial oxygen content and tension.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1622-1631
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of applied physiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2019


  • Heart rate
  • High-affinity hemoglobin
  • Ventilation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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