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Breathing and the Nervous System

Breathing and the Nervous System

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This lesson will identify how the nervous system plays a role in controlling breathing.

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Tutorial

What's Covered

This lesson is going to focus on the relationship of breathing and the nervous system by looking at:

  1. The Role of the Nervous System
  2. Control of Respiration

1. The Role of the Nervous system

The nervous system does play a role in certain aspects of our breathing such as muscle movement and frequency of breathing. It can control the intercostal rib muscles, the muscles in between each of your ribs, and your diaphragm. These muscles are important for regulating the pressure in your chest cavity.

The nervous system also can control your frequency of breathing. The frequency of breathing is determined by carbon dioxide levels. The brain is able to detect carbon dioxide levels in the blood and then, depending on what those levels are, adjust your breathing.

Example If those levels are high, you will breathe more frequently, if they are low, you need to breathe less frequently.


2. Control of Respiration

Respiration is controlled by your brainstem, which is composed of the medulla oblongata and the pons. Neurons in your medulla act as the pacemakers for breathing. They' are able to also detect and regulate the carbon dioxide and oxygen levels in your blood.

IN CONTEXT
You have seen this regulating happen when you had a moment of increased activity like exercise. When you exercise your muscles work harder and your cells produce more carbon dioxide. More oxygen is needed; your breathing pattern changes. You will have to breathe more heavily and more frequently to take in the oxygen that you need and to get rid of the carbon dioxide that is building up.

Chemoreceptors are a type of sensory receptor that detect gas levels. They are found in your brain and in arteries. The ones found in your arteries are called carotid and aortic bodies. As blood passes through these carotid and aortic bodies, they can take an inventory on how much carbon dioxide and how much oxygen is being carried by the blood. It can then be determined if respiration has to change to maintain homeostasis.

Terms to Know

    • Chemoreceptors
    • A class of receptors that detect chemical changes within the body (example: pH changes).
    • Carotid Bodies
    • Chemoreceptors found within the carotid bodies that are sensitive to changes in blood pH; carotid bodies are in constant communication with the brainstem via the glossopharyngeal nerve.
    • Aortic Bodies
    • Chemoreceptors found within the aortic arch that are sensitive to changes in blood pH; aortic bodies are in constant communication with the brainstem via the vagus nerve.

While you can control some aspects of breathing, generally most aspects of our breathing are involuntary. You don’t need to think about it; your body will breath on its own. For this to happen a stimulus has to be detected.

ExampleThe chemoreceptors in your body detect a rise in CO2 concentration levels, making this a stimulus. To make up for that rise in CO2, your breathing rate and your tidal volume will change (increase) to maintain homeostasis, which is an example of a negative feedback loop.

Summary

The role of the nervous system in respiration is to control muscle movement associated with breathing and the frequency of breath. Your body determines the frequency of breath by chemoreceptors which measure the amount of carbon dioxide in the blood. You have chemoreceptors in the carotid and aortic bodies as well as the medulla oblongata. While you can control some of this, control of respiration is mostly involuntary. When the chemoreceptors detect a stimulus such as high carbon dioxide levels, they will signal your breathing to become deeper and more frequent.

Keep up the learning and have a great day!

Source: SOURCE: THIS WORK IS ADAPTED FROM SOPHIA AUTHOR AMANDA SODERLIND

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Chemoreceptors

    A class of receptors that detect chemical changes within the body (example: pH changes).

  • Carotid Bodies

    Chemoreceptors found within the carotid bodies that are sensitive to changes in blood pH; carotid bodies are in constant communication with the brainstem via the glossopharyngeal nerve.

  • Aortic Bodies

    Chemoreceptors found within the aortic arch that are sensitive to changes in blood pH; aortic bodies are in constant communication with the brainstem via the vagus nerve.