Airway reflexes, autonomic function, and cardiovascular responses

John Widdicombe, Lu Yuan Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

102 Scopus citations


In this article, we review the cardiovascular responses to the inhalation of irritants and pollutants. Many sensory receptors in the respiratory system, from nose to alveoli, respond to these irritants and set up powerful reflex changes, including those in the cardiovascular system. Systemic hypotension or hypertension, pulmonary hypertension, bradycardia, tachycardia, and dysrhythmias have all been described previously. Most of the experiments have been acute and have been performed on anesthetized experimental animals. Experiments on humans suggest we have similar sensory systems and reflex responses. However, we must use caution when applying the animal results to humans. Most animal experiments, unlike those with humans, have been performed using general anesthesia, with irritants administered in high concentrations, and often to a restricted part of the respiratory tract. Species differences in the response to irritants are well established. We must be even more careful when applying the results of acute experiments in animals to the pathophysiologic changes observed in prolonged exposure to environmental pollution in humans.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)579-584
Number of pages6
JournalEnvironmental Health Perspectives
Issue numberSUPPL. 4
StatePublished - 2001


  • Afferent receptors
  • Afferent sensitization
  • Airway reflexes
  • Bronchi
  • Cardiac dysrhythmias
  • Cardiovascular responses
  • Larynx
  • Nose
  • Trachea

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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