respiratory system

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respiration, process by which an organism exchanges gases with its environment. The term now refers to the overall process by which oxygen is abstracted from air and is transported to the cells for the oxidation of organic molecules while carbon dioxide (CO2) and water, the products of oxidation, are returned to the environment. In single-celled organisms, gas exchange occurs directly between cell and environment, i.e., at the cell membrane. In plants, gas exchange with the environment occurs in special organs, the stomates, found mostly in the leaves (see leaf; transpiration).

Organisms that utilize respiration to obtain energy are aerobic, or oxygen-dependent. Some organisms can live in the absence of oxygen and obtain energy from fuel molecules solely by fermentation or glycolysis; these anaerobic processes are much less efficient, since the fuel molecules are merely converted to end products such as lactic acid and ethanol, with relatively little energy-rich ATP produced during these conversions.

For individual respiratory organs, see separate articles.

Animal Respiration

In complex animals, where the cells of internal organs are distant from the external environment, respiratory systems facilitate the passage of gases to and from internal tissues. In such systems, when there is a difference in pressure of a particular gas on opposite sides of a membrane, the gas diffuses from the side of greater pressure to the side of lesser pressure, and each gas is transported independently of other gases. For example, in tissues where carbon dioxide concentration is high and oxygen concentration is low as a result of active metabolism, oxygen diffuses into the tissue and carbon dioxide diffuses out.

In lower animals, gas diffusion takes place through a moist surface membrane, as in flatworms; through the thin body wall, as in earthworms; through air ducts, or tracheae, as in insects; or through specialized tracheal gills, as in aquatic insect larvae. In the gills of fish the blood vessels are exposed directly to the external (aquatic) environment. Oxygen–carbon dioxide exchange occurs between the surrounding water and the blood within the vessels; the blood carries gases to and from tissues.

In other vertebrates, including humans, gas exchange takes place in the lungs. Breathing is the mechanical procedure in which air reaches the lungs. During inhalation muscular action lowers the diaphragm and raises the ribs; atmospheric pressure forces air into the enlarged chest cavity. In exhalation the muscles relax and the air is expelled. This combined rhythmic action takes place about 12–16 times per minute when the body is at rest. The rate of breathing is controlled mainly by a respiratory center in the brain stem that responds to changes in the level of hydrogen ion and carbon dioxide in the blood, as well as to other factors such as stress, temperature changes, and motor activities. Some residual air always remains in the lungs, but with each breath an additional quantity of fresh air, called tidal air, is inhaled. Artificial respiration is used for respiratory failure.

In higher vertebrates, oxygen-poor, carbon dioxide–rich blood from the right side of the heart is pumped into the lungs and flows through the net of capillaries surrounding the alveoli, the cup-shaped air sacs of the lungs; oxygen diffuses across the capillary membranes into the blood, and carbon dioxide diffuses in the opposite direction. The oxygen combines with the protein hemoglobin in red blood cells as the blood returns to the left side of the heart, is pumped throughout the body, and is released into tissue cells (see circulatory system). Carbon dioxide passes in the opposite direction, from the cells of the tissues to the red blood cells. In the blood, carbon dioxide exists in three forms: as bicarbonate ion, in which form it serves as a buffer, keeping blood acidity fairly constant; combined with hemoglobin; and as the dissolved free gas. Of these, only free carbon dioxide gas is available for diffusion from the blood into the lungs.

Biochemical Respiration

In biochemistry, respiration refers to the series of biochemical oxidations in which organic molecules are converted to carbon dioxide and water while the chemical energy thus obtained is trapped in a form useful to the cell. Biochemical respiration occurs in both plant and animal cells. Carbohydrates, amino acids, and fatty acids—the organic fuel molecules of the cell—can be converted to acetyl CoA, a derivative of acetic acid and coenzyme A.

Acetyl CoA then enters a series of reactions in the mitochondria, organelles in the cell's cytoplasm. The series of reactions, known as the Krebs cycle, converts the acetic acid portion of acetyl CoA to carbon dioxide, protons, and hydride ions, the latter usually as part of the coenzyme NADH. This molecule is oxidized back to NAD when it donates the hydride ion to the series of enzymes known as the electron transport chain. In a process called oxidative phosphorylation, each electron transport enzyme is in turn reduced (receives the hydride ion), then oxidized (donates a hydride ion to the next enzyme in the series), and the chemical energy liberated in this series of reactions is coupled to the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) from adenosine diphosphate (ADP) and phosphoric acid.

ATP, the cell's form of energy storage and supply, furnishes the chemical energy needed for muscle contraction, protein synthesis, active transport of substances across membranes, and electrical impulses. At the end of the electron transport chain, a hydride ion is donated to an atom of oxygen; this pair, together with a proton from the surrounding solution, forms a molecule of water. Thus, in the overall process of cellular respiration, the fuel molecules are converted to carbon dioxide and water while the chemical energy gained is trapped in a useful form as ATP.

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Respiratory system

The system of organs involved in the acquisition of oxygen and the elimination of carbon dioxide by an organism. The lungs and gills are the two most important structures of vertebrates involved in the phase known as external respiration, or gaseous exchanges, between the blood and environment. Internal respiration refers to the gaseous exchanges which occur between the blood and cells. Certain other structures in some species of vertebrates serve as respiratory organs; among these are the integument or skin of fishes and amphibians. The moist, highly vascular skin of anuran amphibians is important in respiration. Certain species of fish have a vascular rectum which is utilized as a respiratory structure, water being taken in and ejected regularly by the animal. Saclike cloacal structures occur in some aquatic species of turtles. These are vascular and are intermittently filled with, and emptied of, water. It is thought that they may function in respiration. During embryonic life the yolk sac and allantois are important respiratory organs in certain vertebrates. See Yolk sac

Structurally, respiratory organs usually present a vascular surface that is sufficiently extensive to provide an adequate area of absorption for gaseous exchange. This surface is moist and thin enough to allow for the passage of gases.

The shape and volume of the lung, because of its pliability, conforms almost completely to that of its cavity. The lungs are conical; each has an apex and a base, two surfaces, two borders, and a hilum. The apex extends into the superior limit of the thoracic cavity. The base is the diaphragmatic surface. The costal surface may show bulgings into the intercostal spaces. The medial surface has a part lying in the space beside the vertebral column and a part imprinted by the form of structures bulging outward beneath the mediastinal pleura. The cardiac impression is deeper on the left lung because of the position of the heart.

For convenience the lung may be divided into anatomical areas. The bronchial tree branches mainly by dichotomy. The ultimate generations, that is, the respiratory bronchioles, alveolar ducts, and alveoli constitute all of the respiratory portion of the lung. The trachea and extrapulmonary bronchi are kept open by C-shaped bars of hyaline cartilage. When in their branching the bronchi and bronchioles are reduced to a diameter of 1 mm or less, they are then free of cartilage and are called terminal bronchioles. One of the terminal bronchioles enters the apex of a secondary lobule of the lung. These secondary lobules are anatomic units of the lung, whose hexagonal bases rest on the pleura or next to a bronchiole or blood vessel. Finer lines divide the bases of the secondary lobules into smaller areas. These are the bases of primary lobules, each served by a respiratory bronchiole. See Lung, Respiration

The blood supply to the lung is provided by the pulmonary and the bronchial arteries. The nerves which supply the lung are branches of the vagus and of the thoracic sympathetic ganglia 2, 3, and 4. Efferent vagal fibers are bronchoconstrictor and secretory, whereas the afferents are part of the arc for the breathing reflex. Efferent sympathetic fibers are bronchodilators; hence, the use of adrenalin for relief of bronchial spasm resulting from asthma. See Nervous system (vertebrate)

McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Bioscience. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

respiratory system

[′res·prə‚tȯr·ē ¦sis·təm]
The structures and passages involved with the intake, expulsion, and exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the vertebrate body.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.