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Adaptive Trends In Respiratory Control: A Comparative Perspective

William K. Milsom

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In 1941, August Krogh published a monograph entitled The Comparative Physiology of Respiratory Mechanisms (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1941). Since that time comparative studies have continued to contribute significantly to our understanding of the fundamentals of respiratory physiology and the adaptive trends in these processes that support a broad range of metabolic performance under demanding environmental conditions. This review specifically focuses on recent advances in our understanding of adaptive trends in respiratory control. Respiratory rhythm generators most likely arose from, and must remain integrated with, rhythm generators for chewing, suckling, and swallowing. Within the central nervous system there are multiple “segmental” rhythm generators, and through evolution there is a caudal shift in the predominant respiratory rhythm-generating site. All sites, however, may still be capable of producing or modulating respiratory rhythm under appropriate conditions. Expression of the respiratory rhythm is conditional on (tonic) input. Once the rhythm is expressed, it is often episodic as the basic medullary rhythm is turned on/off subject to a hierarchy of controls. Breathing patterns reflect differences in pulmonary mechanics resulting from differences in body wall and lung architecture and are modulated in different species by various combinations of upper and lower airway mechanoreceptors and arterial chemoreceptors to protect airways, reduce dead space ventilation, enhance gas exchange efficiency, and reduce the cost of breathing.