Ventilatory relief of the sensation of the urge to breathe in humans: are pulmonary receptors important?



1. The sensation of an urge to breathe (air hunger) associated with a fixed level of hypercapnia is reduced when ventilation increases. The aim of the present study was to investigate whether pulmonary receptors are important in this mechanism. 2. Five heart-lung transplant (HLT) subjects and five control subjects were studied during periods of mechanical and spontaneous ventilation. End-tidal Pco2 (PET,CO2) was increased by altering the level of inspired CO2. Throughout, subjects rated sensations of air hunger. Air hunger was also monitored during and immediately following maximal periods of breath-holding. 3. When the level of mechanical ventilation was fixed, both groups experienced a high degree of air hunger when PET,CO2 was increased by about 10 mmHg. At similar levels of hypercapnia, both groups derived relief from approximately twofold increases in tidal volume, although relief was slightly less effective in HLT subjects. This was reversible, with decreases in the level of mechanical ventilation rapidly giving rise to increased ratings of air hunger. 4. With breath-holding, all subjects obtained some respiratory relief within 2 s of the break point; there was no significant difference between the groups. 5. The results suggest that sensations of an urge to breathe induced by hypercapnia can be modulated by changes in tidal volume in the presumed absence of afferent information from the lung.