Oxygen sensing by the carotid body chemoreceptors

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2000 Jun;88(6):2287-95. doi: 10.1152/jappl.2000.88.6.2287.


Carotid bodies are sensory organs that detect changes in arterial blood oxygen, and the ensuing reflexes are critical for maintaining homeostasis during hypoxemia. During the past decade, tremendous progress has been made toward understanding the cellular mechanisms underlying oxygen sensing at the carotid body. The purpose of this minireview is to highlight some recent concepts on sensory transduction and transmission at the carotid body. A bulk of evidence suggests that glomus (type I) cells are the initial site of transduction and that they release transmitters in response to hypoxia, which causes depolarization of nearby afferent nerve endings, leading to an increase in sensory discharge. There are two main hypotheses to explain the transduction process that triggers transmitter release. One hypothesis assumes that a biochemical event associated with a heme protein triggers the transduction cascade. The other hypothesis suggests that a K(+) channel protein is the oxygen sensor and that inhibition of this channel by hypoxia leading to depolarization is a seminal event in transduction. Although there is body of evidence supporting and questioning each of these, this review will try to point out that the truth lies somewhere in an interrelation between the two. Several transmitters have been identified in glomus cells, and they are released in response to hypoxia. However, their precise roles in sensory transmission remain uncertain. It is hoped that future studies involving transgenic animals with targeted disruption of genes encoding transmitters and their receptors may resolve some of the key issues surrounding the sensory transmission at the carotid body. Further studies are necessary to identify whether a single sensor or multiple oxygen sensors are needed for the transduction process.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carotid Body / cytology
  • Carotid Body / physiology*
  • Carotid Body / physiopathology
  • Chemoreceptor Cells / physiology*
  • Chemoreceptor Cells / physiopathology
  • Hypoxia / blood
  • Oxygen / blood*


  • Oxygen