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Christian Damsgaard


Assistant Professor

Primary affiliation

Christian Damsgaard

Areas of expertise

  • Respiratory Physiology
  • Acid Base Regulation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Retina

Contact information

Email address


I am a comparative and evolutionary physiologist with a strong interest in the physiological mechanisms underlying gas exchange in vertebrates. Specifically, I study physiological mechanisms and compromises between gas exchange, acid/base-regulation, and neural function. In my research, I use the retina within the eye as a model organ, as this is the most metabolically active tissue in the body but lacks blood vessels (to avoid light scattering), providing an ideal model organ to understand limitations and compromises to gas exchange in tissues. Here, I integrate methodologies from cardiorespiratory- and electro-physiology with cutting-edge OMICs tools to understand how oxygen diffuses in tissues and how metabolic processes and tissue functions change along O2 diffusion gradients. To investigate this, I integrate tissue O2 profiling, electrophysiological recordings, and spatial transcriptomics to understand tissue function at high spatial resolution. These approaches allow me to obtain an integrative understanding of physiological processes from the genomic to whole organismal level and understand how those processes differ in space within heterogeneous organs.

In addition to using the classic single-species approach to understand integrative physiological mechanisms, my research also appreciates the physiological diversity between species and applies phylogenetic comparative methods to address how complex physiological traits have originated, diversified, and interacted across macroevolutionary timescales. Thus, instead of using a single model organism in my studies, I select a model clade - i.e., a group of phylogenetically related species that differ with respect to the trait of interest, and I apply the same experimental methods to all species within the clade. Using information about the species’ phylogenetic relationship, I can then identify how physiological systems changed in the phylogenetic intervals that bracket major transitions in animal evolution. This multi-species approach to physiology allows me to understand the evolution of respiratory systems, the compromises between gas exchange and other physiological functions, and how those tradeoffs have been prioritized during animal evolution.

 Below you can read about specific ongoing projects in the lab: 


Cellular function at respiratory extremes

Oxygen supply and waste product removal are crucial for cellular function. However, the fish retina operates under proton and oxygen levels ten times higher than in other tissues, which would kill most other animal cells. This project seeks to identify the cellular defence mechanisms that allow the fish retinal cells to function in these extreme conditions. 

Funding: The Villum Foundation


Neural function without blood perfusion

The retina of some birds and mammals lack internal blood vessels that would normally scatter the incoming light and blur vision, placing significant constraints on nutrient supply and waste product removal. In this theme of research, we seek to understand the mechanisms underlying respiratory gas transport, nutrient supply, and waste product removal in species with avascular retinas. In addition to understanding the integrative mechanisms underlying neural function without blood perfusion, we further seek to identify how temporal changes in blood vessels phenotype affect tissue metabolism across evolutionary and developmental time scales. 

Funding: The Lundbeck Foundation, the Carlsberg Foundation and Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies

Selected publications

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