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Microsc Res Tech. 2002 Nov 1;59(3):168-77.

Chronic hypoxia-induced morphological and neurochemical changes in the carotid body.

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Department of Surgical Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA.


The carotid body (CB) plays an important role in the control of ventilation. Type I cells in CB are considered to be the chemoreceptive element which detects the levels of PO(2), PCO(2), and [H(+)] in the arterial blood. These cells originate from the neural crest and appear to retain some neuronal properties. They are excitable and produce a number of neurochemicals. Some of these neurochemicals, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, are considered to be primarily inhibitory to CB function and others, such as adenosine triphosphate, acetylcholine, and endothelin, are thought to be primarily excitatory. Chronic hypoxia (CH) induces profound morphological as well as neurochemical changes in the CB. CH enlarges the size of CB and causes hypertrophy and mitosis of type I cells. Also, CH changes the vascular structure of CB, including inducing marked vasodilation and the growth of new blood vessels. Moreover, CH upregulates certain neurochemical systems within the CB, e.g., tyrosine hydroxylase and dopaminergic activity in type I cells. There is also evidence that CH induces neurochemical changes within the innervation of the CB, e.g., nitric oxide synthase. During CH the sensitivity of the CB chemoreceptors to hypoxia is increased but the mechanisms by which the many CH-induced structural and neurochemical changes affect the sensitivity of CB to hypoxia remains to be established.

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