The carotid bodies are arterial chemoreceptors that are sensitive to blood PO2, PCO2 and pH. They are the origin of reflexes that are crucial for maintaining PCO2 and pH in the internal milieu and for adjusting the O2 supply according to the metabolic needs of the organism in situations of increased demand, such as exercise and while breathing at decreased O2 partial pressures during ascent or when living at high altitude. Chemoreceptor cells of the carotid body transduce the blood-borne stimuli into a neurosecretory response that is dependent on external Ca2+. These cells have an O2-sensitive K+ current that is reversibly inhibited by low PO2. It is proposed that the depolarization produced by inhibition of this K+ current activates Ca2+ channels; Ca2+ influx and neurosecretion follow. The cells have also a potent Na(+)-Ca2+ antiporter that could be responsible for the intracellular Ca2+ rise required to trigger the release of neurotransmitters during high PCO2 or low pH stimulation.