Reflexes initiated by the carotid body, the principal O2-sensing organ, are critical for maintaining cardiorespiratory homeostasis during hypoxia. O2 sensing by the carotid body requires carbon monoxide (CO) generation by heme oxygenase-2 (HO-2) and hydrogen sulfide (H2S) synthesis by cystathionine-γ-lyase (CSE). We report that O2 stimulated the generation of CO, but not that of H2S, and required two cysteine residues in the heme regulatory motif (Cys(265) and Cys(282)) of HO-2. CO stimulated protein kinase G (PKG)-dependent phosphorylation of Ser(377) of CSE, inhibiting the production of H2S. Hypoxia decreased the inhibition of CSE by reducing CO generation resulting in increased H2S, which stimulated carotid body neural activity. In carotid bodies from mice lacking HO-2, compensatory increased abundance of nNOS (neuronal nitric oxide synthase) mediated O2 sensing through PKG-dependent regulation of H2S by nitric oxide. These results provide a mechanism for how three gases work in concert in the carotid body to regulate breathing.
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