Simplified models for gas exchange in the human lungs

J Theor Biol. 2006 Jan 21;238(2):474-95. doi: 10.1016/j.jtbi.2005.06.005. Epub 2005 Jul 20.


This paper presents a hierarchy of models with increasing complexity for gas exchange in the human lungs. The models span from a single compartment, inflexible lung to a single compartment, flexible lung with pulmonary gas exchange. It is shown how the models are related to well-known models in the literature. A long-term purpose of this work is to study nonlinear phenomena seen in the cardio-respiratory system (for example, synchronization between ventilation rate and heart rate, and Cheyne-Stokes respiration). The models developed in this paper can be regarded as the controlled system (plant) and provide a mathematical framework to link between "molecular-level", and "systems-level" models. It is shown how changes in molecular level affect the alveolar partial pressure. Two assumptions that have previously been made are re-examined: (1) the hidden assumption that the air flow through the mouth is equal to the rate of volume change in the lungs, and, (2) the assumption that the process of oxygen binding to hemoglobin is near equilibrium. Conditions under which these assumptions are valid are studied. All the parameters in the models, except two, are physiologically realistic. Numerical results are consistent with published experimental observations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Computational Biology
  • Elasticity
  • Hemoglobins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Lung / metabolism*
  • Models, Biological
  • Oxygen / metabolism
  • Protein Binding
  • Pulmonary Gas Exchange*


  • Hemoglobins
  • Oxygen