Physiology of the Respiratory System
- Pulmonary Ventilation
Pulmonary ventilation is the process of moving air into and out of the lungs to facilitate gas exchange. The respiratory system uses both a negative pressure system and the contraction of muscles to achieve pulmonary ventilation. The negative pressure system of the respiratory system involves the establishment of a negative pressure gradient between the alveoli and the external atmosphere. The pleural membrane seals the lungs and maintains the lungs at a pressure slightly below that of the atmosphere when the lungs are at rest. This results in air following the pressure gradient and passively filling the lungs at rest. As the lungs fill with air, the pressure within the lungs rises until it matches the atmospheric pressure.
- External Respiration
External respiration is the exchange of gases between the air filling the alveoli and the blood in the capillaries surrounding the walls of the alveoli. Air entering the lungs from the atmosphere has a higher partial pressure of oxygen and a lower partial pressure of carbon dioxide than does the blood in the capillaries. The difference in partial pressures causes the gases to diffuse passively along their pressure gradients from high to low pressure through the simple squamous epithelium lining of the alveoli. The net result of external respiration is the movement of oxygen from the air into the blood and the movement of carbon dioxide from the blood into the air.
- Internal Respiration
Internal respiration is the exchange of gases between the blood in capillaries and the tissues of the body. Capillary blood has a higher partial pressure of oxygen and a lower partial pressure of carbon dioxide than the tissues through which it passes. The difference in partial pressures leads to the diffusion of gases along their pressure gradients from high to low pressure through the endothelium lining of the capillaries. The net result of internal respiration is the diffusion of oxygen into the tissues and the diffusion of carbon dioxide into the blood.
- Transportation of Gases
- Homeostatic Control of Respiration
Under normal resting conditions, the body maintains a quiet breathing rate and depth called eupnea. Eupnea is maintained until the body’s demand for oxygen and production of carbon dioxide rises due to greater exertion. Autonomic chemoreceptors in the body monitor the partial pressures of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood and send signals to the respiratory center of the brain stem.