The Human Body

Hemoglobin

Hemoglobin, iron-protein compound in red blood cells that gives blood its red color and transports oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitric oxide. Hemoglobin is present in all but the least complex of animals. It carries oxygen from the lungs or gills, where blood is oxygenated, to body cells. When saturated with oxygen, hemoglobin is called oxyhemoglobin. After releasing oxygen to the body tissues, hemoglobin reverses its function and picks up carbon dioxide, the waste product of cellular respiration, for transport to the lungs, where it is expired. When saturated with carbon dioxide, hemoglobin is known as carboxyhemoglobin.

In 1996 scientists discovered that, in addition to oxygen and carbon dioxide, hemoglobin takes up and releases a third gas, nitric oxide. Nitric oxide plays an important role in regulating blood pressure by relaxing the blood vessel walls, thus increasing blood flow. Hemoglobin controls the expansion and contraction of blood vessels, and thus blood pressure, by regulating the amount of nitric oxide to which the vessels are exposed.