Sensory neuropeptides and airway function

J Appl Physiol (1985). 1991 Dec;71(6):2077-87. doi: 10.1152/jappl.1991.71.6.2077.


Sensory nerves synthesize tachykinins and calcitonin-gene related peptide and package these neuropeptides together in synaptic vesicles. Stimulation of these C-fibers by a range of chemical and physical factors results in afferent neuronal conduction that elicits central parasympathetic reflexes and in antidromic conduction that results in local release of neuropeptides through the axon reflex. In the airways, sensory neuropeptides act on bronchial smooth muscle, the mucosal vasculature, and submucosal glands to promote airflow obstruction, hyperemia, microvascular hyperpermeability, and mucus hypersecretion. In addition, tachykinins potentiate cholinergic neurotransmission. Proinflammatory effects of these peptides also promote the recruitment, adherence, and activation of granulocytes that may further exacerbate neurogenic inflammation (i.e., neuropeptide-induced plasma extravasation and vasodilation). Enzymatic degradation limits the physiological effects of tachykinins but may be impaired by respiratory infection or other factors. Given their sensitivity to noxious compounds and physical stimuli and their potent effects on airway function, it is possible that neuropeptide-containing sensory nerves play an important role in mediating airway responses in human disease. Supporting this view are the striking phenomenological similarities between hyperpnea-induced bronchoconstriction (HIB) in guinea pigs and HIB in patients with exercise-induced asthma. Endogenous tachykinins released from airway sensory nerves mediate HIB in guinea pigs and also cause hyperpnea-induced bronchovascular hyperpermeability in these animals. On the basis of these observations, it is reasonable to speculate that sensory neuropeptides participate in the pathogenesis of hyperpnea-induced airflow obstruction in human asthmatic subjects as well.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Calcitonin Gene-Related Peptide / physiology
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Neuropeptides / chemistry
  • Neuropeptides / genetics
  • Neuropeptides / physiology*
  • Receptors, Neurotransmitter / physiology
  • Receptors, Tachykinin
  • Respiratory Physiological Phenomena*
  • Respiratory System / innervation
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / etiology
  • Tachykinins / physiology


  • Neuropeptides
  • Receptors, Neurotransmitter
  • Receptors, Tachykinin
  • Tachykinins
  • Calcitonin Gene-Related Peptide