Disruptions to cellular respiration can occur from metabolic poisons, from anoxia and by exposing anaerobic organisms to oxygen. Cellular respiration is the process by which plant and animal cells break down organic molecules to obtain energy and form adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. ATP is a co-enzyme responsible for the intracellular transport of chemical energy required by cells for various metabolic processes. ATP is essential to all living organisms. Respiration and ATP production occur in organelles known as mitochondria.
Metabolic poisons include compounds containing cyanide, insecticides such as rotenone and antibiotics such as antimycin. These compounds disrupt cellular respiration by interfering with mitochondrial activity and preventing ATP production. Without the energy provided by ATP, the cell dies.
Anoxia, or the absence of oxygen within a cell, also disrupts cellular respiration. Scientists classify the causes of anoxia as pulmonary or circulatory. Pulmonary causes include suffocation, drowning and trauma to the lungs. Circulatory causes include heart attacks, atherosclerosis and tourniquets. Other causes of anoxia include diseases that impair the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen, such as anemia, and hemolysis, the rupture of red blood cells often caused by streptococcus and staphylococcus infections.
In organisms that rely on anaerobic respiration, oxygen acts as a poison and disrupts respiration. Examples of these organisms include certain types of fungi and the bacterial agents that cause tetanus and botulism.