Role of chemoreceptors in mediating dyspnea

Respir Physiol Neurobiol. 2009 May 30;167(1):9-19. doi: 10.1016/j.resp.2008.12.002. Epub 2008 Dec 11.


Dyspnea, or the uncomfortable awareness of respiratory distress, is a common symptom experienced by most people at some point during their lifetime. It is commonly encountered in individuals with pulmonary disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), but can also be seen in healthy individuals after strenuous exercise, at altitude or in response to psychological stress. Dyspnea is a multifactorial sensation involving the brainstem, cortex, and limbic system, as well as mechanoreceptors, irritant receptors and chemoreceptors. Chemoreceptors appear to contribute to the sensation of dyspnea in two ways. They stimulate the respiratory control system in response to hypoxia and/or hypercapnia, and the resultant increase respiratory motor output can be consciously perceived as unpleasant. They also can induce the sensation of dyspnea through an as yet undetermined mechanism-potentially via direct ascending connections to the limbic system and cortex. The goal of this article is to briefly review how changes in blood gases reach conscious awareness and how chemoreceptors are involved in dyspnea.

Publication types

  • Editorial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chemoreceptor Cells / physiology*
  • Consciousness / physiology
  • Dyspnea / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Lung / innervation
  • Lung / physiology
  • Lung Diseases / physiopathology
  • Respiratory Mechanics / physiology*
  • Sensation / physiology*