From Breathing to Respiration

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Abstract

The purpose of breathing remained an enigma for a long time. The Hippocratic school described breathing patterns but did not associate breathing with the lungs. Empedocles and Plato postulated that breathing was linked to the passage of air through pores of the skin. This was refuted by Aristotle who believed that the role of breathing was to cool the heart. In Alexandria, breakthroughs were accomplished in the anatomy and physiology of the respiratory system. Later, Galen proposed an accurate description of the respiratory muscles and the mechanics of breathing. However, his heart-lung model was hampered by the traditional view of two non-communicating vascular systems - veins and arteries. After a period of stagnation in the Middle Ages, knowledge progressed with the discovery of pulmonary circulation. The comprehension of the purpose of breathing progressed by steps thanks to Boyle and Mayow among others, and culminated with the contribution of Priestley and the discovery of oxygen by Lavoisier. Only then was breathing recognized as fulfilling the purpose of respiration, or gas exchange. A century later, a controversy emerged concerning the active or passive transfer of oxygen from alveoli to the blood. August and Marie Krogh settled the dispute, showing that passive diffusion was sufficient to meet the oxygen needs.

© 2014 S. Karger AG, Basel

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