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Carotid Body Function in Heart Failure

Carotid body

The carotid body is a small organ located in the neck, essential for controlling our breathing and many aspects of our cardiovascular function. In patients with heart failure, the amount of oxygen that reaches the carotid body is reduced and this causes it to become overactive. Carotid body overaction have many downstream effects including leading to an abnormality in our breathing; an increase in the activity of certain nerves that control the function of our heart and also contributes to lower survival rates in heart failure patients.

As such targeting the carotid body overactivation in heart failure could be potential future therapy for this disease.

What is the carotid body and why is it important in cardiovascular  disease?

Carotid body oxygen sensing

Role of carotid body in health

Carotid bodies are the main peripheral oxygen sensors. Despite decades of research, the carotid body oxygen sensing mechanism has not been fully elucidated. Previous studies proposed that unusually low oxygen affinity of cytochrome c oxidase (mitochondrial complex IV) and mitochondrial reactive oxygen species may play an important role. Currently, there is only limited data available regarding the electron transport chain function and mitochondrial reactive oxygen species production in the carotid body, hence our lab is trying to fully characterise the mitochondrial function in the carotid body and therefore help fully understand the oxygen sensing mechanism.

Role of carotid body in disease

Carotid body activity is higher in a number of diseases, including obstructive sleep apnoea, hypertension and heart failure. Previous research has shown that in heart failure, carotid bodies are the main drivers of an increased sympathetic activity and therefore can lead to faster disease progression and lower survival rates. While, carotid bodies are an attractive target, therapeutic development has been limited as the oxygen sensing mechanism is not fully understood. Hence, our lab is trying to understand how carotid body mitochondrial function and reactive oxygen species production changes in heart failure. The main aim is to understand what signalling pathways are particularly affected and therefore could be targeted pharmacologically. 

Relevant Papers

Schultz HD, Marcus NJ, Del Rio R. Role of the carotid body in the pathophysiology of heart failure. Curr Hypertens Rep. 2013 Aug;15(4):356-62. doi: 10.1007/s11906-013-0368-x. PMID: 23824499; PMCID: PMC3801176.

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