Can we sense oxygen through our skin?

April 18th, 2008 - 12:14 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, April 18 (IANS) Mice can sense oxygen through their skin, according to new research. The study shows that the skin plays a major role in sensing oxygen levels and in stimulating the kidney’s production of erythropoietin (EPO) when oxygen concentrations drop.

EPO is a hormone that ramps up production of the red blood cells (RBCs) that carry and deliver oxygen in the body via the circulatory system.

If the findings in mice hold for humans, the discovery might lead to new methods for treating anaemia and other diseases that affect red blood cell counts.

It might also have implications for endurance athletes, who sometimes train at high altitude or in low-oxygen tents to increase EPO and red cells, noted Randall Johnson of the University of California.

“The fact that the skin plays a role at all in (oxygen sensing in mammals) is surprising,” Johnson said.

Of course, he added, nobody would be surprised at all if the finding were in frogs. Amphibians have long been known to breathe in part through their skin.

The new results therefore suggest that such a role for the skin in oxygen sensing is ancient and has been conserved in mammals.

“As it turns out, when we looked for the ion channels involved in this process in frog skin - which are also present in mammalian lungs - we found the same channels present in the skin of a mouse,” he said. “No one had ever looked.”

These findings were published Friday in the latest issue of the journal Cell.

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