Objectives: To describe the anatomy and neurophysiology of the cough reflex.
Methods: A review of the literature was carried out using PubMed and the ISI Web of Knowledge from 1951 to 2004. Most of the referenced studies were carried out in animals
Conclusions: Studies carried out in animals provide suggestive but inconclusive evidence that C-fibers and rapidly adapting receptors (RARs) arising from the vagus nerves mediate coughing. Recent studies also have suggested that a vagal afferent nerve subtype that is not readily classified as a RAR or a C-fiber may play an important role in regulating cough. Afferent nerves innervating other viscera, as well as somatosensory nerves innervating the chest wall, diaphragm, and abdominal musculature also likely play a less essential but important accessory role in regulating cough. The responsiveness and morphology of the airway vagal afferent nerve subtypes and the extrapulmonary afferent nerves that regulate coughing are described.