Sensory nerves in lung and airways

Lu Yuan Lee, Jerry Yu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

107 Scopus citations


Sensory nerves innervating the lung and airways play an important role in regulating various cardiopulmonary functions and maintaining homeostasis under both healthy and disease conditions. Their activities conducted by both vagal and sympathetic afferents are also responsible for eliciting important defense reflexes that protect the lung and body from potential health-hazardous effects of airborne particulates and chemical irritants. This article reviews the morphology, transduction properties, reflex functions, and respiratory sensations of these receptors, focusing primarily on recent findings derived from using new technologies such as neural immunochemistry, isolated airway-nerve preparation, cultured airway neurons, patch-clamp electrophysiology, transgenic mice, and other cellular and molecular approaches. Studies of the signal transduction of mechanosensitive afferents have revealed a new concept of sensory unit and cellular mechanism of activation, and identified additional types of sensory receptors in the lung. Chemosensitive properties of these lung afferents are further characterized by the expression of specific ligandgated ion channels on nerve terminals, ganglion origin, and responses to the action of various inflammatory cells, mediators, and cytokines during acute and chronic airway inflammation and injuries. Increasing interest and extensive investigations have been focused on uncovering the mechanisms underlying hypersensitivity of these airway afferents, and their role in the manifestation of various symptoms under pathophysiological conditions. Several important and challenging questions regarding these sensory nerves are discussed. Searching for these answers will be a critical step in developing the translational research and effective treatments of airway diseases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)287-324
Number of pages38
JournalComprehensive Physiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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