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The evolution of cardiovascular function in vertebrates

Regulation of blood flow in reptiles: Effects of hypoxia regulatory peptides and local factors

Nini Skovgaard


Lung structure of reptiles is very diverse ranging from single chambered lungs with a simple structure to more complex and multi-chambered lungs. Increased structural complexity resulted from the evolution of smaller gas exchange units and larger surface area, which increases the pulmonary diffusive capacity for O2. However, increased structural complexity probably also increases the possibilities for ventilation-perfusion ( V/Q ) heterogeneity, which exerts significant constraints on gas exchange. In most reptiles, the ventricle is anatomically and functionally undivided so blood pressures are equal in the systemic and pulmonary circulations. In these species, blood flow distribution between pulmonary and systemic circulations is primarily determined by pulmonary and systemic vascular resistances. Thus, increased pulmonary resistance lowers pulmonary blood flow through increasing cardiac right-to-left-shunt decreasing systemic oxygen levels. It has been proposed that local mechanisms regulating pulmonary blood flow are more pronounced in reptiles with complex lungs as they are more prone to V/Q heterogeneity. However, local control of pulmonary blood flow has also been suggested to primarily exist when hearts are functionally divided because altered pulmonary vascular resistance does not affect cardiac shunt patterns. Data suggest that, while there seems to be a general trend of increased local regulation of pulmonary blood flow in species with structurally complex lungs and divided hearts, it is also possible that other factors, such as breathing pattern, have been important for the evolutionary development of local regulatory mechanisms in the lungs.