The Respiratory System

Cells continually use oxygen for the metabolic reactions that release energy from nutrient molecules and produce ATP. At the same time, these reactions release carbon dioxide. Since an excessive amount of carbon dioxide is toxic to cells, the excess carbon dioxide must be eliminated quickly and efficiently. The two systems that cooperate to supply oxygen and eliminate carbon dioxide are the cardiovascular system and the respiratory system. The respiratory system provides for gas exchange, intake of oxygen, and elimination of carbon dioxide. The cardiovascular system transports the gases in the blood between the lungs and body cells. In addition to functioning in gas exchange, the respiratory system also contains receptors for the sense of smell, filters inspired air, produces sounds, and helps eliminate wastes.

Exchange of Gases
Respiration is the exchange of gases between the atmosphere, blood, and cells. It takes place in three basic steps: External respiration is the exchange between the external environment and the blood that takes place in the lungs. 2. Internal respiration is the gaseous exchange between the blood and the cells of the body. 3. Cellular respiration or oxidation occurs within the mitochondria of the cell.

Respiration begins as air is inhaled through the nose and passes through the nasal cavity where it is warmed, moistened, and filtered. It passes from the pharynx and larynx and into the trachea. The trachea divides into two bronchi, which subdivide into the smaller and smaller branches of the bronchial tree. The air moves through the bronchioles until it reaches the ends of the air passages that terminate in clusters of air sacs called alveoli. Capillaries of the pulmonary circulatory system surround the thin porous walls of the alveoli. The blood entering the lungs through the pulmonary arteries has a high concentration of carbon dioxide that has been picked up from the cells of the body and a low concentration of oxygen. The concentration of oxygen in the alveoli is greater than in the blood. Conversely, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the blood are higher than in the alveoli. Therefore, through the process of diffusion, carbon dioxide moves from the blood to the lungs and is exhaled while oxygen moves from the lungs into the bloodstream and is carried by the red blood cells back to the heart and then circulated throughout the body. Oxygenated blood moves into the capillaries of the general circulation. Differences in the concentration of the gases between the blood and tissue fluid cause oxygen to diffuse into the tissue fluid while carbon dioxide diffuses out of the fluid and into the blood. A similar diffusion process takes place between the tissue fluid and the cells. Once in the cells, the oxygen is used in aerobic cellular respiration within the mitochondria of cells to produce energy. Some of this energy is used by the cells of the body to perform work. The rest of the energy is released in the form of heat. The waste products of energy production include carbon dioxide and water, which migrate back into the bloodstream to be eliminated. The red blood cells and the plasma carry the carbon dioxide to the lungs, where it diffuses out of the blood into the alveoli to be expelled from the lungs with the next exhalation.

Mechanism of Breathing

External respiration, also called ventilation or breathing, involves the act of inhaling and exhaling air, resulting in an exchange of gases between the blood and air sacs. With each

inhalation, the intercostal muscles contract, raising the ribs and expanding the thoracic cavity. At the same time, the diaphragm contracts and is pulled down, causing the lungs to draw in air. Exhalation occurs as the intercostals and the diaphragm relaxes, returning to their neutral positions and pushing air out of the lungs. Forced exhalation involves the contraction of the internal intercostal muscles, which collapse the rib cage, and the contraction of the abdominal muscles, which force the abdominal viscera against the diaphragm, further reducing the area of the thoracic cavity. The maximum intake of oxygen and expulsion of carbon dioxide is accomplished during deep breathing, which involves exaggerated movements of both the ribs and diaphragm. Depending on the individual’s lung capacity, the natural rate of breathing for an adult is between fourteen and twenty times a minute. The rate of breathing is increased by the demand for oxygen by such things as increased muscular activity. Once again, the most important inspiratory muscle is the diaphragm. It is innervated by fibers of the phrenic nerve. The area from which nerve impulses are sent to respiratory muscles is located bilaterally in the medulla oblongata and pons of the brain stem.

Questions for Discussion and Review: “The Respiratory System”
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. Which type of gas is used to create energy? Which type of gas is created as a toxic byproduct by the production energy? Which two systems work together to supply oxygen and eliminate carbon dioxide? What is the function of the respiratory system? What is the function of the cardiovascular system? What is respiration?

7. What is external respiration? 8. What is internal respiration? 9. What is cellular respiration? 10. What are alveoli? 11. Describe what happens to carbon dioxide inside the lungs. 12. Describe what happens to oxygen inside the lungs? 13. Which process drives the gas exchange within the lungs? 14. Where does aerobic cellular respiration occur? 15. What are the waste products of energy production? 16. What is the function of the red blood cells? 17. What is ventilation or breathing? 18. Which muscles are important for inhalation? 19. How does normal exhalation take place? 20. How does forced exhalation take place? 21. What is the normal breathing rate for an adult? 22. What is the most important inspiratory muscle? 23. Which nerve innervates the diaphragm? 24. Which part of the brain controls the respiratory muscles?


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