Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. Chun Jiang - Chair

Second Advisor

Dr. Deborah Baro

Third Advisor

Dr. Teryl Frey

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Delon Barfuss


The process of respiration is a pattern of spontaneity and automatic motor control that originate in the brainstem. The mechanism by which the brainstem detects CO2 is termed central CO2 chemoreception (CCR). Since the early 1960’s there have been tremendous efforts placed on identification of central CO2 chemoreceptors (molecules that detect CO2). Even with these efforts, what a central CO2 chemoreceptor looks like remain unknown. To test the hypothesis that inward rectifier K+ (Kir) channels are CO2 sensing molecules in CCR, a series of experiments were carried out. 1) The first question asked was whether the Kir4.1-Kir5.1 channel is expressed in brainstem chemosensitive nuclei. Immunocytochemistry was performed on transverse medullary and pontine sections using antibodies raised against Kir4.1 and Kir5.1. Positive immunoassays for both Kir4.1 and Kir5.1 subunits were found in CO2 chemosensitive neurons. In the LC the Kir4.1 and Kir5.1 were co-expressed with the neurokinin-1 receptor that is the natural receptor for substance P. 2) The second question asked was whether the Kir4.1-Kir5.1 channel is subject to modulation by neurotransmitters critical for respiratory control. My studies demonstrated that indeed the Kir4.1-Kir5.1 channel is subject to modulation by substance P, serotonin and thyrotropin releasing hormone. 3) I performed studies to demonstrate the intracellular signaling system underlying the Kir4.1-Kir5.1 channel modulation by these neurotransmitters. The modulation by all three neurotransmitters was dependent upon the activation of protein kinase C (PKC). The Kir4.1-Kir5.1 but not the Kir4.1 channel was modulated by PKC. Both the Kir4.1 and Kir5.1 subunits can be phosphorylated by PKC in vitro. However, systematic mutational analysis failed to reveal the phosphorylation site. 4) The fourth question asked was whether Kir channels share a common pH gating mechanism that can be identified. Experiments were performed to understand the gating of the Kir6.2+SUR1 channel as specific sites for ligand binding and gating have been demonstrated. I identified a functional gate that was shared by multiple ligands that is Phe168 in the Kir6.2. Other Kir channels appear to share a similar gating mechanism. Taken together, these studies demonstrate the modulation of Kir channels in central CO2 chemoreception.


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