The enormous surface area of alveoli and the short diffusion distance between alveolar air and the capillary blood quickly help to bring the blood into gaseous equilibrium with the alveolar air. This function is further aided by the tremendous number of capillaries that surround each alveolus, forming an almost continuous sheet of blood around the alveoli (fig. 16.21).
When a liquid and a gas, such as blood and alveolar air, are at equilibrium, the amount of gas dissolved in the fluid reaches a maximum value. According to Henry's law, this value depends on (1) the solubility of the gas in the fluid, which is a physical constant; (2) the temperature of the fluid—more gas can be dissolved in cold water than warm water; and (3) the partial pressure of the gas. Since the temperature of the blood does not vary significantly, the concentration of a gas dissolved in a fluid (such as plasma) depends directly on its partial pressure in the gas mixture. When water—or plasma—is brought into equilibrium with air at a PO2 of 100 mmHg, for example, the fluid will contain 0.3 ml of O2 per 100 ml fluid at 37° C. If the PO2 of the gas were reduced by half, the amount of dissolved oxygen would also be reduced by half.
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This ebook provides an introductory explanation of the workings of the human body, with an effort to draw connections between the body systems and explain their interdependencies. A framework for the book is homeostasis and how the body maintains balance within each system. This is intended as a first introduction to physiology for a college-level course.