Carbon dioxide is important for regulating the acid-base balance of the blood. When the concentration of this gas becomes higher than normal, the blood tends to become more acidic.

"It promotes the activation of specialized sensors called chemoreceptor," said Eduardo Colombari, a professor at Sao Paulo State University in Brazil.

"Some of these chemoreceptor are located in the central nervous system; more precisely, on the ventrolateral surface of the medulla oblongata (the region of the brain responsible for neurovegetative control that forms the interface between the spinal cord and the mesencephalon) in the retrotrapezoid nucleus," he explained.

The neurons in this region express a specific marker that allows them to be identified. This marker consists of a transcription factor called Phox2b, which is involved in the cell differentiation of autonomic and respiratory neurons that communicate with other neural groups responsible for controlling respiratory activity in order to keep CO2 levels within the physiological range.

Advances in understanding the mechanisms involved in the perception of CO2 levels in the central nervous system could help prevent cases of sudden death in infants and adults in the future. The study appeared in the journal Experimental Physiology.


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