Carotid body chemoreceptors: physiology, pathology, and implications for health and disease

Rodrigo Iturriaga, Julio Alcayaga, Mark W. Chapleau, Virend K. Somers

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The carotid body (CB) is the main peripheral chemoreceptor for arterial respiratory gases O2 and CO2 and pH, eliciting reflex ventilatory, cardiovascular, and humoral responses to maintain homeostasis. This review examines the fundamental biology underlying CB chemoreceptor function, its contribution to integrated physiological responses, and its role in maintaining health and potentiating disease. Emphasis is placed on 1) transduction mechanisms in chemoreceptor (type I) cells, highlighting the role played by the hypoxic inhibition of O2-dependent K+ channels and mitochondrial oxidative metabolism, and their modification by intracellular molecules and other ion channels; 2) synaptic mechanisms linking type I cells and petrosal nerve terminals, focusing on the role played by the main proposed transmitters and modulatory gases, and the participation of glial cells in regulation of the chemosensory process; 3) integrated reflex responses to CB activation, emphasizing that the responses differ dramatically depending on the nature of the physiological, pathological, or environmental challenges, and the interactions of the chemoreceptor reflex with other reflexes in optimizing oxygen delivery to the tissues; and 4) the contribution of enhanced CB chemosensory discharge to autonomic and cardiorespiratory pathophysiology in obstructive sleep apnea, congestive heart failure, resistant hypertension, and metabolic diseases and how modulation of enhanced CB reactivity in disease conditions may attenuate pathophysiology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1177-1235
Number of pages59
JournalPhysiological Reviews
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1 2021


  • autonomic system
  • carotid body
  • hypoxia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Physiology (medical)


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