The hypothesis that respiratory reflexes, such as cough, reflect the net and often opposing effects of activation of multiple afferent nerve subpopulations throughout the airways was evaluated. Laryngeal and tracheal mucosal challenge with either citric acid or mechanical probing reliably evoked coughing in anesthetized guinea pigs. No other stimulus reliably evoked coughing in these animals, regardless of route of administration and despite some profound effects on respiration. Selectively activating vagal C-fibers arising from the nodose ganglia with either adenosine or 2-methyl-5-HT evoked only tachypnea. Selectively activating vagal afferents arising from the jugular ganglia induced respiratory slowing and apnea. Nasal afferent nerve activation by capsaicin, citric acid, hypertonic saline, or histamine evoked only respiratory slowing. Histamine, which activates intrapulmonary rapidly adapting receptors but not airway or lung C-fibers or tracheal bronchial cough receptors induced bronchospasm and tachypnea, but no coughing. The results indicate that the reflexes initiated by stimuli thought to be selective for some afferent nerve subtypes will likely depend on the net and potentially opposing effects of multiple afferent nerve subpopulations throughout the airways. The data also provide further evidence that the afferent nerves regulating cough in anesthetized guinea pigs are distinct from either C-fibers or intrapulmonary rapidly adapting receptors.