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Classically considered a by-product of anaerobic metabolism, lactate is now viewed as a fundamental fuel for oxidative phosphorylation in mitochondria, and preferred over glucose by many tissues. Lactate is also a signaling molecule of increasing medical relevance. Lactate levels in the blood can increase in both normal and pathophysiological conditions (e.g., hypoxia, physical exercise, or sepsis), however the manner by which these changes are sensed and induce adaptive responses is unknown. Here we show that the carotid body (CB) is essential for lactate homeostasis and that CB glomus cells, the main oxygen sensing arterial chemoreceptors, are also lactate sensors. Lactate is transported into glomus cells, leading to a rapid increase in the cytosolic NADH/NAD+ ratio. This in turn activates membrane cation channels, leading to cell depolarization, action potential firing, and Ca2+ influx. Lactate also decreases intracellular pH and increases mitochondrial reactive oxygen species production, which further activates glomus cells. Lactate and hypoxia, although sensed by separate mechanisms, share the same final signaling pathway and jointly activate glomus cells to potentiate compensatory cardiorespiratory reflexes.


Hortensia Torres-Torrelo, Patricia Ortega-Sáenz, Lin Gao, José López-Barneo. Lactate sensing mechanisms in arterial chemoreceptor cells. Nature communications. 2021 Jul 06;12(1):4166

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PMID: 34230483

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