Central respiratory chemosensitivity and cerebrovascular CO2 reactivity: A rebreathing demonstration illustrating integrative human physiology

Christina M. MacKay, Rachel J. Skow, Michael M. Tymko, Lindsey M. Boulet, Margie H. Davenport, Craig D. Steinback, Philip N. Ainslie, Chantelle E.M. Lemieux, Trevor A. Day*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    6 Citations (Scopus)


    One of the most effective ways of engaging students of physiology and medicine is through laboratory demonstrations and case studies that combine 1) the use of equipment, 2) problem solving, 3) visual representations, and 4) manipulation and interpretation of data. Depending on the measurements made and the type of test, laboratory demonstrations have the added benefit of being able to show multiple organ system integration. Many research techniques can also serve as effective demonstrations of integrative human physiology. The "Duffin" hyperoxic rebreathing test is often used in research settings as a test of central respiratory chemosensitivity and cerebrovascular reactivity to CO2. We aimed to demonstrate the utility of the hyperoxic rebreathing test for both respiratory and cerebrovascular responses to increases in CO2 and illustrate the integration of the respiratory and cerebrovascular systems. In the present article, methods such as spirometry, respiratory gas analysis, and transcranial Doppler ultrasound are described, and raw data traces can be adopted for discussion in a tutorial setting. If educators have these instruments available, instructions on how to carry out the test are provided so students can collect their own data. In either case, data analysis and quantification are discussed, including principles of linear regression, calculation of slope, the coefficient of determination (R2), and differences between plotting absolute versus normalized data. Using the hyperoxic rebreathing test as a demonstration of the complex interaction and integration between the respiratory and cerebrovascular systems provides senior undergraduate, graduate, and medical students with an advanced understanding of the integrative nature of human physiology.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)79-92
    Number of pages14
    JournalAdvances in Physiology Education
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2016


    • Central respiratory chemosensitivity
    • Cerebrovascular carbon dioxide reactivity
    • Data analysis
    • Hyperoxic rebreathing
    • Laboratory demonstration


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