Sensory Nerves

Volume 194 of the series Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology pp 139-183


Sensory Nerves and Airway Irritability

  • B.J. CanningAffiliated withJohns Hopkins Asthma and Allergy Center Email author 
  • , D. SpinaAffiliated withThe Sackler Institute of Pulmonary Pharmacology, Division of Pharmaceutical Science, 5th Floor Hodgkin Building, King’s College London Email author 

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The lung, like many other organs, is innervated by a variety of sensory nerves and by nerves of the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems that regulate the function of cells within the respiratory tract. Activation of sensory nerves by both mechanical and chemical stimuli elicits a number of defensive reflexes, including cough, altered breathing pattern, and altered autonomic drive, which are important for normal lung homeostasis. However, diseases that afflict the lung are associated with altered reflexes, resulting in a variety of symptoms, including increased cough, dyspnea, airways obstruction, and bronchial hyperresponsiveness. This review summarizes the current knowledge concerning the physiological role of different sensory nerve subtypes that innervate the lung, the factors which lead to their activation, and pharmacological approaches that have been used to interrogate the function of these nerves. This information may potentially facilitate the identification of novel drug targets for the treatment of respiratory disorders such as cough, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.


Rapidly adapting receptors C-fibers Cough receptor Cough Parasympathetic nervous system Sympathetic nervous system Cough Bronchoconstriction Mucus secretion Bronchial hyperresponsiveness