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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Compare the composition of atmospheric air and alveolar air
  • Describe the mechanisms that drive gas exchange
  • Discuss the importance of sufficient ventilation and perfusion, and how the body adapts when they are insufficient
  • Discuss the process of external respiration
  • Describe the process of internal respiration

The purpose of the respiratory system is to perform gas exchange. Pulmonary ventilation provides air to the alveoli for this gas exchange process. At the respiratory membrane, where the alveolar and capillary walls meet, gases move across the membranes, with oxygen entering the bloodstream and carbon dioxide exiting. It is through this mechanism that blood is oxygenated and carbon dioxide, the waste product of cellular respiration, is removed from the body.

Gas exchange

In order to understand the mechanisms of gas exchange in the lung, it is important to understand the underlying principles of gases and their behavior. In addition to Boyle’s law, several other gas laws help to describe the behavior of gases.

Gas laws and air composition

Gas molecules exert force on the surfaces with which they are in contact; this force is called pressure. In natural systems, gases are normally present as a mixture of different types of molecules. For example, the atmosphere consists of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and other gaseous molecules, and this gaseous mixture exerts a certain pressure referred to as atmospheric pressure ( [link] ). Partial pressure ( P x ) is the pressure of a single type of gas in a mixture of gases. For example, in the atmosphere, oxygen exerts a partial pressure, and nitrogen exerts another partial pressure, independent of the partial pressure of oxygen ( [link] ). Total pressure is the sum of all the partial pressures of a gaseous mixture. Dalton’s law    describes the behavior of nonreactive gases in a gaseous mixture and states that a specific gas type in a mixture exerts its own pressure; thus, the total pressure exerted by a mixture of gases is the sum of the partial pressures of the gases in the mixture.

Partial Pressures of Atmospheric Gases
Gas Percent of total composition Partial pressure
(mm Hg)
Nitrogen (N 2 ) 78.6 597.4
Oxygen (O 2 ) 20.9 158.8
Water (H 2 O) 0.04 3.0
Carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) 0.004 0.3
Others 0.0006 0.5
Total composition/total atmospheric pressure 100% 760.0

Partial and total pressures of a gas

The left panel of this figure shows a canister of oxygen. The middle panel shows a canister of nitrogen. The right panel shows a canister containing a mixture of oxygen and nitrogen. A pressure gauge on each container shows the pressure exerted by the gas in that container.
Partial pressure is the force exerted by a gas. The sum of the partial pressures of all the gases in a mixture equals the total pressure.

Partial pressure is extremely important in predicting the movement of gases. Recall that gases tend to equalize their pressure in two regions that are connected. A gas will move from an area where its partial pressure is higher to an area where its partial pressure is lower. In addition, the greater the partial pressure difference between the two areas, the more rapid is the movement of gases.

Solubility of gases in liquids

Henry’s law    describes the behavior of gases when they come into contact with a liquid, such as blood. Henry’s law states that the concentration of gas in a liquid is directly proportional to the solubility and partial pressure of that gas. The greater the partial pressure of the gas, the greater the number of gas molecules that will dissolve in the liquid. The concentration of the gas in a liquid is also dependent on the solubility of the gas in the liquid. For example, although nitrogen is present in the atmosphere, very little nitrogen dissolves into the blood, because the solubility of nitrogen in blood is very low. The exception to this occurs in scuba divers; the composition of the compressed air that divers breathe causes nitrogen to have a higher partial pressure than normal, causing it to dissolve in the blood in greater amounts than normal. Too much nitrogen in the bloodstream results in a serious condition that can be fatal if not corrected. Gas molecules establish an equilibrium between those molecules dissolved in liquid and those in air.

Questions & Answers

Rheumatoid arthritis affects
Jessica Reply
what is oedema
Nantumbwe Reply
i want abook about physiology including the vitamins
Belal
fluid retention in the body. (also spelt as edema) e.g. fluid retention in the lungs is called Pulmonary Edema). It can also happen as a result of Injury manifested as swelling.
Arif
can you give me an example of a tissue composed of few related types of cells
Theresa Reply
What is LMx1600
Mae Reply
the skeletal system includes all of the bones
All Reply
what is the bone not contain red bone marrow in medulla
Duha Reply
To know the part of human body
Sarah Reply
Anatomy refers to as structure of human body
Sarah
so is the macroscopic and microscopic the types of anatomy
Gloria Reply
is microscopic and macroscopic a type of anatomy
Gloria
yes
Maxine
yes
Yabsra
yes
Sarah
Please can someone explain three glands in endocrine system?
josh
.
Robin
can someone explain disease and the category
gege
type 2 is controled by diet
Chloe Reply
Diet and life style
Paias
Diet how? maybe eating food containing less sugar?
BTS
we must eat protein food to check our diet
Sarah
type 2 diabetes cannot be controlled by insulin so therefore your diet should be well balanced especially you shouldn't eat foods with high sugar level or stopping sugar at all so that the sugar content needed by your body will be provided by the balanced diet taken
Enada
what is hypotension
regina Reply
hypotension is when the blood pressure is less than 60/50
Mursal
hypo means low so it implies low blood pressure
Isaac
ok
Mursal
what is mild DKA
Mursal
mild diabetic ketoacidosis is when there is high level of sugar in the blood and the ketone bodies build up in the body ,is a type 1 which can lead to type 2
Isaac
what is the normal range for blood pressure?
BTS
120 over 80
Danielle
low blood pressure; opposite of high blood pressure which is hypertension
Regina
what if your a type 2 diabetic and you have no way to get meds due to no insurance what is some good over the counter medications to take?
Ashley
type 2 diabets is controlled by diet not meds.type 1 is contolled by insulin.
Chloe
type 1 diabets cant be controlled type 2 can be controlled.type 1 is worse than type 2 diabets.
Chloe
type 2 is purely a lifestyle disease, eat healthy, fresh, natural unprocessed real foods.
Danielle
sometime , we already eat diabetic diet than the results of blood sugar level not turn good , what is the reason ?
Muhammad
What is a "diabetic diet" though? Be specific. Juvenile diabetes and/or Type 1 diabetes is something that one can be born with, this needs medical diagnosis and intervention.
Danielle
what i mean by diabetic diet is we take fiber-rich food like vegetables,nut and also fish.
Muhammad
ok, no cause a doctor told me I needed metformin and my suger won't go under 300
Ashley
what is the difference between plasma and serum
Gloria Reply
Plasma contains fibrinogen while serum doesn't
Kateregga
plasma ----- fibrinogen = serum
Sneha
serum is blood plasma without fibrinogen or other clotting factors While blood plasma contains dissolved protein like fibrinogen,globulin, and albumin), glucose, clotting factors,mineral ions like Na2+,Cl-1,hormones and carbon dioxide
Prince
In what time stomach empty it's content in to doudemun? what is chyme?
Sneha Reply
write the chemical and mechanical digestion which occurs in stomach?
Sneha
Does absorption take place in stomach? what are absorption in the stomach by which cell?
Sneha
Chemical digestion---Mixtures of the food with the gastric acid Mechanical digestion--- churning of the food in the stomach making it become more involved into chyme
Mercy
absorption takes place in the small intestine because of the presence of the villi
Enada
name the muscles supplied redina nerve
Appu Reply
mechanism of hormone releasing by gland
said Reply
why is muscle tissue not considered to be a type of connective tissue?
Ezel Reply
A Skeletal muscles consist of numerous muscles cells called Muscle Fibers . Three layers of connective tissues surrounded these fibers to make the muscles tissues
Manisha
that's wny connective tissues is not considered as muscles fibers
Manisha
there are 4 types of tissues : epithelial, connective tissue, nervous tissue and muscle tissue, each one has its own properties. The main function of connective tissue is nutrition, it supplies nutrientes to epithelial tissues that are responsible for protection.
Ariete
Muscle tissue has properties that allow movement, the function here is movement and not nutrition like connective tissue.
Ariete
In what time stomach empty it's content in to doudemun?
Sneha
write the chemical and mechanical digestion which occurs in stomach?
Sneha
Does absorption take place in stomach? what are absorption in the stomach by which cell?
Sneha
Does absorption take place in stomach? what are the absorption in the stomach by which cell?
Sneha
mechanism of hormone controlling releasing by gland
said
please can someone explain renin angiotensin aldosteron system for me
okolie

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Source:  OpenStax, Anatomy & Physiology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 04, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11496/1.8
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