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Oxygen transport

Most of the oxygen is transported in a combined state. Some of the oxygen is present in solution in the blood.
For each decilitre of blood, 4.6ml oxygen enters the blood in the lungs. Of this only 0.17ml remains in the
plasma in the solution form. Remaining enters the red blood cells and combines with haemoglobin.
Haemoglobin (Hb) has an affinity for oxygen. Oxygen combines with the iron ions (Fe2+) of the Hb molecule. In
the arteries lining the lungs, it combines with oxygen and forms HbO2, oxyhaemoglobin.

Each haemoglobin molecule contains four Fe2+ ions. So, each haemoglobin molecule can carry a maximum of
four oxygen molecules. The saturation of the Hb molecule depends on the amount of oxygen in the alveolar air.
It is found that haemoglobin has more affinity for oxygen under high partial pressure of oxygen, low
temperatures and low acidic conditions.

Oxygen - Haemoglobin Dissociation Curve

However, in the tissues the partial pressure of oxygen is low as it is constantly being used up.
Temperature is higher because of metabolic reactions and the acidity is also high. Under these
conditions, the oxyhaemoglobin gives up its oxygen and forms haemoglobin again. More active the
tissue is, lesser is the partial pressure of oxygen. Thus more oxygen is released by the oxyhaemoglobin
in the more active tissues.

Carbon dioxide transport

Carbon dioxide is transported in three different forms - dissolved gas, bicarbonates and
carbaminohaemoglobin molecules. About 3.7ml of carbon dioxide enters each 100ml of blood. A small
amount in the plasma is transported in the dissolved form. Most of the carbon dioxide enters the red
blood cells. Of the gas entering the RBCs, 70% is converted to bicarbonate ions and remaining 30%
forms carbaminohaemoglobin.
Formation of bicarbonates

Carbon dioxide first combines with water to form carboxylic acid in the presence of zinc and an enzyme called
the carbonic anhydrase. The carboxylic acid is then split into hydrogen ions and bicarbonate ions. Most of the
bicarbonate ions come out of the RBCs and are transported by the blood plasma. The hydrogen ions are
absorbed by haemoglobin.

In the lungs, the reverse reaction takes place and the haemoglobin gives up the hydrogen ions which combine
with the bicarbonate to form the carbonic acid. This then forms carbon dioxide and water.

Both the reactions are catalyzed by an enzyme called the carbonic anhydrase.
After the formation of haemoglobinic acid (carbonate ions + haemoglobin), the chloride ions (Cl-) diffuse from
plasma into the RBC to maintain the ionic balance. The neutrality is maintained electrochemically. This is called
the chloride shift.
shift The chloride ions combine with the potassium ions to form KCl (potassium chloride) in the
RBC. HCO3- (hydrogen carbonate ions) in the plasma combine with Na+ to form sodium hydrogen carbonate
(NaHCO3). Most of the CO2 (almost 70%) is transported from tissues to the lungs in the above way.

Formation of carbaminohaemoglobin

Some of the carbon dioxide entering the erythrocytes combines with the globin (protein part) of
haemoglobin to form carbaminohaemoglobin.

Gaseous Exchange in Tissues


The blood transports the oxygen to the different tissues where it is used to break down the food and release
energy. In the tissues also the gaseous exchange takes place by diffusion. The tissue cells are surrounded by
the tissue fluid. The arteries with oxygen-rich blood branch into fine capillaries. The PO2 of the arterial blood in
the arterial capillaries is higher than that of the tissue fluid. This is because the cells use up oxygen for
respiration. Due to the higher arterial PO2, the oxygen diffuses from the blood into the tissue fluid from where
the cells take it up.
The cells release carbon dioxide into the tissue fluid which increases the PCO2 of the tissue fluid more than that
of arterial blood. Consequently, carbon dioxide enters the blood capillaries from the tissue fluid.
As the capillaries reach the tissue fluid, the oxyhaemoglobin dissociates and only the oxygen enters the tissue
fluid. The carbon dioxide also forms bicarbonates and carbaminohaemoglobin only in the blood. Thus in the
tissue fluid, the respiratory gases are present in solution.
Extension material:
As a person climbs up a mountain, the atmospheric pressure falls along with which, the partial pressures of the gases
also fall. This reduces the partial pressure of oxygen in the lungs. Reduction of PO2 in lungs lowers the amount of oxygen in
blood. This causes various symptoms like breathlessness, nausea, dizziness, headache, irritability, mental fatigue and
bluish tinge on the skin, nails and lips. This is called mountain sickness.
An opposite condition occurs in the deep-sea divers. In deep sea, the partial pressure of all gases is more in the lungs.
This forces nitrogen to mix with the blood and other body fluids. When the diver is pulled up the partial pressure falls and
also the solubility of nitrogen. Nitrogen then evolves from the body fluid and forms bubbles in the blood stream. These
bubbles can block the important blood vessels of the body leading to lungs or brain resulting in serious complications. This
is called decompression sickness. To avoid this, the diver should be lifted slowly out of the water.