What parts of the brain control respiration

Leslie Samuel The Nervous System 5 Comments

First off, lets talk about what respiration is. In order for you to live, your body needs oxygen. Cells use this oxygen in order for metabolism to take place and without it, you would have no energy. When you eat, that food is broken down and the process of respiration allows for you to convert that food into an energy form that can be used by your body.

In addition to providing the body with Oxygen, it’s also responsible for getting rid of Carbon Dioxide, which is a waste product that is made in the body.


Patrick J. Lynch, medical illustrator; C. Carl Jaffe, MD, cardiologist.

Now that we have that covered, lets talk about the involvement of the brain in this process. Your brain starts where the spinal cord enters the skull, and the first section that you encounter is called the Brain Stem. The brain stem contains the following structures:

  • The medulla oblongata (I love that name)
  • The Pons
  • The Midbrain

The medulla oblongata is involved in regulating many of the bodily processes that are controlled automatically like blood pressure, heart rate and yes, you guessed it . . . RESPIRATION.

The way this works is relatively straightforward. The medulla oblongata basically detects carbon dioxide (CO2) and Oxygen (O2) levels in the bloodstream and determines what changes need to happen in the body. It can then send nerve impulses to muscles in the heart and diaphragm, letting them know that they need to either step up their game, or slow down a bit.

The reason I mentioned the heart is because the respiratory system is very much tied to  the circulatory system.

What Happens During Exercise

Lifting Weights :)

Lifting Weights :)

When you are exercising, you are using your muscles in a significant way, and your body demands that you take in more oxygen so that it can be delivered to your muscles. You circulatory and respiratory system needs to make sure that the oxygen is getting to the muscles faster than when you are just chilling. Also, they need to make sure that the CO2 that is produced is taken away efficiently.

In order for that process to happen efficiently, the medulla oblongata, after sensing what is happening, sends signals to the heart and the respiratory muscles (diaphragm and intercostal muscles). You start breading heavily (increased respiration) to get that O2 in and CO2 out. You heart starts beating faster because not only does the oxygen need to get into the body, but they need to be delivered to the muscles.

That gives you a pretty good idea of how the medulla oblongata controls the process of respiration. The main concept here is that there needs to be a good balance of things happening in your system in terms of respiration. If your cells have what they need, your cells are happy. If they are happy, your body is happy, and hopefully so are you.

Questions or Comments?

If you have any questions or comments about how this process works, or what I’ve written here, please post them below in the comments section.

Comments 5

  1. An Luân

    Hello sir. Thanks for the lectures, although I have a question.

    You said:”The medulla oblongata basically detects carbon dioxide (CO2) and Oxygen (O2) levels in the bloodstream…” to regulate respiration while as I know, it is the H+ ions that are detected instead since CO2 and O2 cannot reach Medulla due to its size. Any idea sir?

    Well, I know that CO2 has a a thing or two to do with pH in the body. Still it is kind of misleading by saying Medulla works base on the concentration of CO2 and O2, is it not?

  2. Yusuf Bhalli

    Greetings sir,
    My question is, where from the medulla oblongata the nerve pass and gets connected to the heart ; is it from front side of the neck or the back.

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