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Respir Physiol. 1992 Mar;87(3):325-48.

Variations in function and design: testing symmorphosis in the respiratory system.

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Department of Anatomy, University of Berne, Switzerland.


We explore the question of whether and to what extent the large variation in energy requirements observed among mammals is related to variations in the design of the respiratory system, from the lung to the mitochondria in muscle cells. Resting metabolic rate is determined by body size (allometric variation). Maximal rates of O2 consumption (VO2 max) also vary in a regular manner with body size, but adaptive variation allows some species to achieve much higher values than others of the same body size. We, therefore, consider adaptive variation as modulation of structures and functions above those determined by allometric variation. A model is presented that separates functional and design parameters at four steps of the respiratory cascade: the pulmonary gas exchanger, heart and blood, microvasculature, and mitochondria. The variations observed in these parameters are analyzed with respect to those in energy demand and are discussed in relation to the hypothesis of symmorphosis. We conclude that the design of the internal steps of the respiratory system (mitochondria, capillaries, blood, and heart) is matched to functional demand, whereas the lung maintains a variable excess of morphometric diffusing capacity which may be related to the facts that the lung has limited malleability and that it forms the interface with the environment.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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