Reflexes from airway rapidly adapting receptors

Respir Physiol. 2001 Mar;125(1-2):33-45. doi: 10.1016/s0034-5687(00)00203-6.


Rapidly adapting receptors (RARs) occur throughout the respiratory tract from the nose to the bronchi. They have thin myelinated nerve fibres, an irregular discharge and adapt rapidly to a maintained volume stimulus, but often slowly to a chemical stimulus. They are polymodal, responding to mechanical and chemical irritant stimuli, and to many inflammatory and immunological mediators. RARs show very varied sensitivities to different stimuli, and diverse reflex responses. Those in the larynx are usually called 'irritant' receptors. They probably cause cough, the expiration reflex and other laryngeal reflexes: cardiovascular, mucus secretion, bronchoconstrictor and laryngoconstrictor. Those in the trachea and larger bronchi are very mechanosensitive; they cause cough, bronchoconstriction and airway mucus secretion. Those in the larger bronchi are more chemosensitive; they may cause cough, but also stimulate hyperventilation, augmented breaths, mucus secretion, bronchoconstriction and laryngeal closure. Most of the stimuli to RARs also affect other airway receptors, especially those with C-fibre afferents, and the total reflex response will be the additive affect of all these reflexes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology
  • Animals
  • Bronchi / physiology
  • Humans
  • Larynx / physiology
  • Lung / physiology
  • Pulmonary Stretch Receptors / anatomy & histology*
  • Pulmonary Stretch Receptors / physiology*
  • Reflex / physiology*