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Respir Physiol. 1980 Jan;39(1):1-31.

Blood/gas equilibrium of carbon dioxide in lungs. A critical review.


(1) The scope of this review is to examine the experimental evidence for the existence of negative PCO2 differences between pulmonary capillary blood and lung gas, [delta PCO2(b-G)], which have been observed both during rebreathing, when CO2 was at equilibrium, and during steady state gas exchange, particularly in hypercapnia. (2) The mechanism that have been invoked to explain negative delta PCO2(b-G) include (i) slow equilibration of the system CO2/HCO3-/H+ in blood, and (ii) effects of a negatvely charged surface of the pulmonary capillary endothelium. While the first postulated mechanism appears to be quantitatively insufficient to explain the results, the second seems to lead to serious qualitative difficulties. (3) Existence of negative delta PCO2(b-G) in CO2 equilibrium would invalidate the basis of the conventional analysis of alveolar gas exchange. (4) A critical analysis of the experimental evidence for the existence of negative delta PCO2(b-G) is presented. It includes the identification of directional experimental errors leading to spurious negative delta PCO2(b-G), and a critical review of the literature data in this regard. (5) Results of own experiments, conducted in an attempt to consider all possible sources of error, are reported, revealing (i) perfect PCO2 equality between alveolar gas and blood in rebreathing equilibrium of CO2; (ii) absence of negative delta PCO2 (b-G) during steady state gas exchange in hypercapnia. (6)Both experiments and model calculations show that negative delta PCO2 between mixed venous blood and end-expired gas observed in birds at steady state of gas exchange are explained by a particular action of the Haldane effect in avian parabronchial lungs with cross-current arrangement of gas and blood flow. (7) It is concluded that the negative delta PCO2(b-G) reported in the literature are probably artifactual and that there is no adequate evidence to invalidate the traditional view according to which blood/gas CO2 equilibration in lungs leads to equal PCO2 in both media.

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