Combined oxygen and glucose sensing in the carotid body

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UHM 2004, Vol. 31, No. 1 – Glucose and O
2
sensing by the carotid body
Combined oxygen and glucose sensing in the
carotid body.
R PARDAL and J. LÓPEZ-BARNEO
Laboratorio de Investigaciones Biomédicas. Departamento de Fisiología and Hospital Universitario Virgen del Rocío,
Universidad de Sevilla, E-41013, Seville, Spain
INTRODUCTION
Oxygen sensing is essential for the adaptation of living organisms to variable
habitats and physiologic situations. In mammals, survival in acute hypoxia requires fast
respiratory and cardiocirculatory adjustments to guarantee proper O
2
supply to the most
critical organs, such as the brain and heart (1). Reduction of arterial O
2
tension is detected
by the carotid bodies, small ovoid organs situated in the carotid bifurcation, which
contain afferent nerve fibers that activate the brainstem respiratory centers to produce
hyperventilation. The O
2
-sensitive elements within the carotid body are the ectodermal-
derived glomus cells. These neurosecretory cells are electrically excitable (2, 3) and have
O
2
-sensitive potassium channels in their membranes (3, 4, 5). It is broadly accepted that
inhibition of these channels by low pO
2
is a key step leading to membrane depolarization,
external calcium influx and the activation of neurotransmitter release, which, in turn,
stimulates the afferent sensory fibers. This model of chemotransduction, suggested by
electrophysiological experiments, has been confirmed by monitoring cytosolic [Ca
2+
] and
quantal catecholamine secretion in single cells (6-11).
The mechanism of acute O
2
sensing based on the regulation of membrane
potassium channels has been demonstrated to operate in other neurosecretory systems,
such as cells in the neuroepithelial bodies of the lung (12), chromaffin cells of the adrenal
medulla (13), or PC-12 cells (14). However, some investigators have argued that the O
2
-
sensitive membrane electrical events are not directly implicated in the chemotransduction
because in their whole-carotid body preparations, the application of K
+
channel blockers
do not increase the action potential firing frequency or secretory activity (15-17). It was
also reported that tetraethylammonium (TEA), a blocker of the O
2
-sensitive K
+
current in
the carotid body, is unable to induce depolarization on dispersed rat glomus cells (18).
Given the discrepancies among observations in the carotid body reported by
different authors, we have developed a slice preparation of the organ to study the O
2
sensitivity of glomus cells in the best possible physiological conditions (11, 19). The
Copyright © 2004 Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society, Inc. 113
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UHM 2004, Vol. 31, No. 1 – Glucose and O
2
sensing by the carotid body
carotid body thin slice has been found to be an excellent preparation to study the cellular
bases for the chemosensitivity of glomus cells. We have found that carotid body cells are
multimodal sensor organs that detect not only the reduction of the pO
2
but also the
decrease of the extracellular glucose concentration.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
Electrophysiological Recording and the Responses of Glomus Cells to
Hypoxia.
The procedures followed to make carotid body slices are described in detail
elsewhere (11). Figure 1A shows the aspect of one glomerulus of glomus cells within a
slice, with the arrow pointing to a well-identifiable cell, susceptible to being analyzed
electrophysiologically. The distribution of the cells in glomeruli within the slice is
consistent with the structure observed in the organ after sectioning and immunostaining
for tyrosine hydroxilase (TH), the rate limiting enzyme in the synthesis of dopamine, a
common catecholamine found in glomus cells (Figure 1B).
Figure 1. Electrophysiological recording on glomus cells within rat carotid body
thin slices.
Fig. 1 A & B. Electrophysiological
recording on glomus cells within rat
carotid body thin slices. (A) Typical
glomerulus in a slice with well-defined
single glomus cells (arrow). (B)
Carotid body slice immunostained with
antibodies against tyrosine
hydroxilase. Note the typical
appearance of glomus cells with large
nuclei and a thin layer of stained
cytoplasm.
Stable recordings of membrane currents can easily be obtained from glomus cells
in the slices by using the whole-cell configuration of the patch-clamp technique, as
adapted in our laboratory (20, 21). The majority of the cells recorded in the slices (77%
from a total number of 110) had inward and outward currents qualitatively similar to
those described in enzymatically dispersed rat glomus, or type I, cells (22, 23). The
remaining 23% of cells (n=26) had no measurable currents or presented a small transient
outward current, thus suggesting that they were type II, or sustentacular cells, present in
the carotid body (2, 20). The outward currents of glomus cells were highly sensitive to
the application of external TEA (5 mM caused an inhibition of 67.5±6% at +20 mV,
mean±standard deviation, n=4 cells) or the selective calcium-dependent K
+
channel
blocker iberiotoxin (IbTX, 200 nM, caused an inhibition of 65% and 45% at +20 mV in
two cells tested). Therefore, as described in isolated cells (22, 23), a large proportion of
the outward current was due primarily to the activity of maxi-K
+
voltage- and calcium-
dependent channels. As described in dispersed rabbit (3, 24-26) and rat (4, 22, 23, 27)
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2
sensing by the carotid body
glomus cells, the amplitude of macroscopic voltage-dependent currents was reduced
when exposed to low pO
2
.
Typical recordings of O
2
-sensitive currents are shown in Figure 1C. However, our
work on slices has focused so far on the study of secretion rather than on the recording of
ionic currents.
Fig 1C. Diagram of the whole-cell
configuration of the patch clamp
technique and superimposed
macroscopic K
+
currents from a glomus
cell elicited by depolarizing pulses from
–80 mV to the indicated voltage in the
three experimental conditions (control,
low pO
2
, and recovery).
We have found the slice
preparation to be particularly
convenient to study the
responsiveness of intact glomus
cells to hypoxia and other stimuli using the amperometric detection of catecholamines (7,
10, 11). Quantal transmitter release can be monitored with a polarized 8-12-µm carbon-
fiber electrode positioned near the surface of a glomus cell (Figure 1D). The fiber is
connected to a high-gain current-to-voltage converter and polarized to +750 mV, a value
more positive than the redox potential of dopamine, the most abundant catecholamine in
glomus cells. A representative secretory response of a glomus cell to depolarization by
either a hypoxic solution or a high external K
+
solution is shown in Figure 1D.
Fig. 1 D. Diagram of the amperometric detection of
catecholamine release from a single glomus cell,
and amperometric recording from an O
2
-sensitive
glomus cell illustrating the increase of secretory
activity induced by hypoxia and high extracellular
potassium. (Modified from Ref. 11 and 19.)
Spike-like signals resulted from the
fusion of single vesicles. The area under
individual spikes (quantal charge) yields an
estimate of the number of catecholamine
molecules released, assuming that two
electron charges are transferred to the fiber
during the oxidation of each catecholamine molecule. Average quantal charge estimated
from high K
+
-induced events was 40.3±17.6 fC (n=293 spikes in 7 cells), corresponding
to 125,000±50,000 molecules per vesicle. These values, obtained from cells in slices,
are comparable to those previously described in dispersed rat and rabbit glomus cells (7,
10, 11). The magnitude of the secretory responses of the cells was estimated either from
the number of spikes in the minute after ninety seconds of exposure to the stimulus
(frequency in events/min) or from the sum of all quantal charges measured in the same
time period and expressed as femtocoulombs per minute (fC/min; secretion rate). This
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2
sensing by the carotid body
last variable represents the total amount of catecholamine molecules released per minute
at the peak of the response.
In slices with well-defined glomeruli, low pO
2
consistently induced a progressive
increase in the frequency of secretory events (Fig. 1D), from almost rest in normoxia to a
value of 48.6±19 spikes/min (n=24 cells) and a secretion rate of 1,710±270 fC/min (n=17
cells). At the peak of the response to hypoxia, the secretory events fused into a broad
concentration envelope that quickly declined after switching to the control, normoxic
solution . All the glomus cells that responded to hypoxia were also activated by solutions
with high external K
+
(Fig. 1D), as expected from electrically excitable cells.
Interestingly, we also observed glomus cells that were unresponsive to hypoxia but
activated by depolarization with high external K
+
. Cells insensitive to hypoxia were more
frequently observed in slices that appeared somewhat unhealthy, possibly due to damage
during the experimental protocol. One possible explanation is that these are cells with O
2
sensors uncoupled from the membrane ion channels. In all cells tested (n=10), the
neurosecretory response to hypoxia was completely abolished by the addition of the
voltage-dependent calcium channel blocker cadmium (Figure 2A) or the removal of
extracellular calcium with EGTA (11). This observation confirmed the dependence of the
response to hypoxia on the extracellular calcium influx through voltage-gated calcium
channels, as previously shown on dispersed rabbit carotid body cells (7, 9).
Figure 2. Secretory responses of glomus cells in the slices to cadmium and K
+
channel blockers.
Fig 2A. Secretory activity recorded from
an O
2
-sensitive glomus cell to illustrate the
reversible abolishment of the response to
hypoxia during the blockade of Ca
2+
channels by addition of 0.2 mM cadmium
to the extracellular solution.
Secretory Responses of Glomus Cells to Potassium Channel Blockers
The major contributors to the O
2
-sensitive macroscopic K
+
currents in rat glomus
cells are voltage- and Ca
2+
-dependent maxi-K
+
channels (4, 22, 23). Because TEA or
iberiotoxin (IbTX) block these channels, we have studied whether, like hypoxia , addition
of these agents to the external solution induces Ca
2+
entry and secretion from glomus
cells. In most cells studied (33 of 34), application of 5 mM TEA to the bath solution
elicited an increase in the secretory activity similar to that triggered by hypoxia (Figure
2B).
Fig 2 B. Amperometric recording from
a glomus cell showing the similar
effects elicited by low pO
2
and the
application of 5 mM TEA.
The response to the
blocker reached a frequency of
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2
sensing by the carotid body
42±17 spikes/min (n=6 cells), with a secretion rate of 1,878±470 fC/min (n=6). These
values are not significantly different from the respective ones obtained in low pO
2
(Student's t-test, p=0.05). The average quantal charge of events induced by TEA was
43±30 fC (n=275 spikes in 6 cells). This value is also similar to that estimated with
events elicited by hypoxia (43±26 fC; n=576 spikes in 14 cells), suggesting that both
stimuli trigger the release of vesicles from the same cellular pool. The effect of TEA was
observed even in quiescent cells, without any measurable spontaneous quantal release, as
well as in O
2
-insensitive glomus cells. We have also tested the effect of IbTX, a selective
blocker of Ca
2+
- and voltage-activated maxi K
+
channels (28). Figure 2C illustrates the
increase of secretory activity in a glomus cell exposed to 200 nM IbTX.
Figure 2 C. Secretory activity induced in a
glomus cell by hypoxia and 200 nM IbTX
(Modified from Ref. 11).
The response is similar to
those obtained with TEA or hypoxia, although the recovery phase seems to be somewhat
longer, possibly due to slower washout of IbTX. All these observations indicate that
direct blockade of the O
2
-sensitive K
+
channels with TEA or IbTX can elicit secretion
from rat glomus cells in the slices. Our data make it difficult to understand why K
+
channel blockers do not activate whole carotid body preparations, in which the glomus
cell-afferent fiber synapses are maintained intact (16, 17). As suggested before (11), a
possible explanation is that the blockers do not diffuse at the appropriate concentration
into the extracellular space of the carotid bodies either superfused by the bath solution or
perfused through the carotid artery.
Sensitivity of Glomus Cells in the Slices to Hypoglycemia
It has been proposed that the carotid body participates in glucose homeostasis (29,
30), and recently, it has been shown that resection of the carotid bodies and surrounding
tissues results in the impairment of the insulin-induced counter-regulatory responses to
mild hypoglycemia (31). However, there is no evidence
that any of the cellular elements in the carotid body can
directly respond to changes in extracellular glucose
concentration. Using the carotid body thin slice
preparation, we studied the effect of external glucose
removal on the secretory activity of the glomus cells (32).
Figure 3 represents the response of intact glomus cells to
low glucose.
Fig 3 A. Top. Amperometric signal illustrating the increase of
secretory activity in a glomus cell exposed to glucose-free solution.
Bottom. Cumulative secretion signal (in femtocoulombs) resulting
from the time integral of the amperometric recording.
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2
sensing by the carotid body
In healthy preparations, exposure of a glomus cell in the slice to 0 glucose
consistently produced a marked and reversible increase of cell secretory activity (Figure
3A). The average rate of secretion during the last minute of exposure to low glucose
(1870±386 fC/min, n=14 cells) was over twenty times (Figure 3B) that of the control
condition (88±45 fC/min, n=14).
Fig 3 B and C. (B) Bar diagram
quantifying the average response
of glomus cells to 0 glucose. (C)
Histogram representing the
distribution of the area of
exocytotic events in low glucose.
The size distribution and
mean area of quantal events
triggered by low glucose
(Figure 3C) were similar to
those previously observed in
glomus cells activated by
high K
+
, hypoxia or TEA (see above), further suggesting that all these stimuli induce the
release of a common vesicle pool. The effect of low glucose on glomus cells was
concentration-dependent (Figure 3D) and additive with the effects of hypoxia.
Fig. 3 D Secretory response of a glomus cell
to different concentrations of glucose in the
external solution.
At normal air O
2
tension (pO
2
150 mmHg), secretion was evoked
only when glucose decreased below
2 mM. However, at a pO
2
of 90
mmHg (a value close to the normal
O
2
tension in arterial blood), glomus
cell secretory activity was
significantly modulated by glucose
in the concentration range (2 to 5 mM) that includes the values observed in common
hypoglycemic situations (32; Figure 3E).
Fig. 3E. Logarithm of maximal secretion rate
(ordinate) versus glucose concentration at two
different pO
2
values. (Modified from Ref. 23.)
Catecholamine secretion induced by
glucose-free solutions was totally
suppressed by the addition of 0.2 mM Cd
2+
to the extracellular solution in all cells
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2
sensing by the carotid body
tested (n=3; Figure 4A). Because 0.2 mM extracellular Cd
2+
completely blocks voltage-
gated Ca
2+
channels in glomus cells (7), this indicates that low glucose induces
transmitter secretion when membrane electrical events result in depolarization and Ca
2+
influx through voltage-dependent channels. Experiments on patch-clamped cells dialyzed
with an internal solution containing 4 mM Mg-ATP confirmed this idea. Glucose
deficiency produced a reversible reduction of peak outward K
+
current amplitude
(Figures 4B and 4C) that at +20 mV, had an average value of 38±12% (n=7 cells). Low
glucose appeared to act selectively on voltage-dependent K
+
channels since it had no
effect on the small inward current characteristic of most rat glomus cells (data not
shown).
Figure 4. Glomus cell membrane electrical events in the response to low glucose.
Fig. 4. Glomus cell membrane
electrical events in the response to
low glucose. (A) Reversible
suppression of low glucose-evoked
secretory activity by application of
0.2 mM cadmium to the
extracellular solution. (B)
Recordings of outward K
+
currents
from a patch-clamped glomus cell
depolarized to 0 and +20 mV and
exposed to 0 mM glucose. The
control (c) and recovery (r)
external solutions contained 5 mM
glucose. (C) Current-voltage
relationship obtained measuring
maximum current amplitudes from
the experiment shown on B.
The electrophysiological
and amperometric data
obtained from glomus cells
in carotid body slices
strongly suggest that these cells are physiological low-glucose detectors capable of
transducing glucose levels into variable rates of transmitter release. The low-glucose
signaling pathways in glomus cells appear to be initiated by an inhibition of voltage-
gated K
+
channel activity, which leads to membrane depolarization, Ca
2+
influx through
voltage-gated Ca
2+
channels and transmitter release. Therefore, in glomus cells, low
glucose and hypoxia converge to raise cytosolic [Ca
2+
] and release transmitters, which
stimulates afferent sensory fibers and evokes sympathoadrenal activation. These
observations help explain previous reports of anesthetized animals exhibiting rapid
increases in the output of hepatic glucose after the activation of the carotid body with
sodium cyanide (29, 30), alterations of carbohydrate metabolism in acute hypoxia (33), or
the impairment of an insulin-induced counter-regulatory response to mild hypoglycemia
in carotid body resected dogs (31). Although the existence of peripheral glucosensors,
presumably located in the liver or portal vein, has been proposed (34, 35), the
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2
sensing by the carotid body
strategically located carotid bodies may be of special importance for brain homeostasis,
as neurons are particularly vulnerable to the simultaneous lack of glucose and oxygen
(36). The function of glomus cells as combined O
2
and glucose sensors, in which the two
stimuli potentiate each other, is surely advantageous to facilitate the activation of
counter-regulatory measures in response to small reductions of any of the regulated
variables. Impairment of low-glucose sensing by carotid body glomus cells might
contribute to the susceptibility of insulin-dependent diabetic patients to hypoglycemia.
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  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Hypoxic stimulation of the carotid body receptors (CBR) results in a rapid hyperglycemia with an increase in brain glucose retention. Previous work indicates that neurohypophysectomy inhibits this hyperglycemic response. Here, we show that systemic arginine vasopressin (AVP) induced a transient, but significant, increase in blood glucose levels and increased brain glucose retention, a response similar to that observed after CBR stimulation. Comparable results were obtained after intracerebral infusion of AVP. Systemic AVP-induced changes were maintained in hypophysectomized rats but were not observed after adrenalectomy. Glycemic changes after CBR stimulation were inhibited by pharmacological blockage of AVP V1a receptors with a V1a-selective receptor antagonist ([beta-Mercapto-beta,beta-cyclopentamethylenepropionyl1,O-me-Tyr2, Arg8]-vasopressin). Importantly, local application of micro-doses of this antagonist to the liver was sufficient to abolish the hyperglycemic response after CBR stimulation. These results suggest that AVP is a mediator of the hyperglycemic reflex and cerebral glucose retention following CBR stimulation. We propose that hepatic activation of AVP V1a receptors is essential for this hyperglycemic response.
    Preview · Article · Jul 2006 · Journal of Applied Physiology
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Introduction Oxygen is required as the ultimate electron acceptor in aerobic energy production. In the long run, all vertebrates need oxygen to support metabolism. In the short term, however, some animals can cope with a total lack of oxygen (anoxia), and others can tolerate reduced oxygen levels (hypoxia). Furthermore, eutrophic aquatic systems in particular are characterized by supra-atmospheric oxygen tensions (hyperoxia) during active photosynthesis of green plants. Hyperoxic conditions may also occur in the closed system of circulation, especially near the gas gland and avascular retina of fishes (Ingermann and Terwilliger, 1982 Pelster and Scheid, 1992).With regard to oxygen requirements, there is an intricate balance between reactions that produce energy and those that consume it. It is generally agreed that energy (and oxygen) consumption is reduced when adapting to conditions of low oxygen (e.g. channel arrest) (Hochachka and Lutz, 2001). However, even in conditions in which oxygen is not limiting, adjustments of metabolic rate occur (Rissanen 2006a). Because several phenomena, at both integrative and molecular levels, have turned out to be oxygen sensitive, the search for mechanisms by which oxygen is sensed has intensified in recent years.Several questions relate to how oxygen is sensed and how oxygen-dependent responses occur. First, what is actually sensed, when apparently oxygen-dependent phenomena occur? Secondly, which molecules are utilized in sensing oxygen? Thirdly, what are the pathways used in oxygen sensing–i.e. how is the primary signal converted to be used by the effector systems in an oxygen-dependent manner?
    Full-text · Chapter · Jan 2010

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