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Breathtaking find completes puzzle of body’s response


The missing link in understanding how the body reacts to being short of oxygen has been discovered in a ‘molecular fishing expedition’ by Leeds researchers.

Professor Chris Peers and Paul Kemp from cardiovascular medicine and biologist Dr David Iles and colleagues set out to complete the puzzle of what identifies low oxygen levels in the body and triggers cells to respond. The processes from the cell’s response to the nervous system’s reaction – which makes us breath harder – has been understood for several decades.

The researchers examined the activity of potassium channels and found that carbon monoxide produced by an enzyme - hemoxygenase-2 – was crucial. When levels of oxygen are low the enzyme struggles to produce the carbon monoxide and the chain of events starts.

The British Heart Foundation-funded work focused on how the carotid body – an oxygen detector in the neck – responded to low oxygen and now hope to extend the work to confirm if hemoxygenase-2 is responsible for similar responses in other parts of the body, including the brain and blood vessels.

The understanding of how the body responds to oxygen levels is important in addressing the impact of strokes, heart disease and circulatory problems which can reduce oxygen supply to parts of the body. Long term exposure to low oxygen has been linked with an increased risk of diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Their findings are published in the international journal Science.

Hannah Love | alfa
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