Functional morphology and physiology of pulmonary rapidly adapting receptors (RARs)

Anat Rec A Discov Mol Cell Evol Biol. 2003 Jan;270(1):2-10. doi: 10.1002/ar.a.10003.


Rapidly adapting receptors (RARs) in the airway mucosa are found from the nasopharynx to the bronchi. They have thin (Adelta) vagal afferent fibres and lie in and under the epithelium, but their morphology has not been defined. They are very sensitive to mechanical stimuli, and have a rapidly adapting irregular discharge. However, with in vitro preparations they are rather insensitive to chemical stimuli, apart from acid and nonisosmolar solutions. Their pattern of response varies with site. RARs in the nasopharynx, larynx, and trachea usually respond only during the onset of stimuli, while those in the trachea often have an off-response as well. Those in the bronchi are less rapidly adapting and more chemosensitive. Their membranes have mechanosensitive and acid-sensitive ion channels, but no vanilloid receptors. In vivo RARs are sensitive to a wide range of chemical irritants and mediators, and presumably are excited secondarily to mechanical changes in the mucosa and airway smooth muscle. In the central nervous system (CNS) they interact with other vagal afferent pathways. The reflexes they cause vary with site (inspiratory efforts from the nasopharynx, cough or expiratory efforts from the larynx and trachea, and deep breaths or tachypnoea from the bronchi). Pathways from RARs and other vagal reflexes show plasticity at the peripheral, ganglionic, and CNS levels.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Afferent Pathways / physiopathology
  • Animals
  • Bronchi / innervation
  • Bronchi / physiopathology
  • Cough / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Neural Conduction / physiology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Pulmonary Stretch Receptors / anatomy & histology*
  • Pulmonary Stretch Receptors / physiology*
  • Reflex
  • Respiratory Physiological Phenomena
  • Respiratory System / innervation