Regulatory peptides of the gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts

Arch Int Pharmacodyn Ther. 1986 Apr;280(2 Suppl):16-49.


The gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts contain numerous regulatory peptides produced by and released from specialised epithelial cells and the organ innervation. This complex system of endocrine cells and nerves is generally called "the diffuse neuroendocrine system". Markers are now available which permit the visualisation of the diffuse neuroendocrine system or its individual components. These include antibodies to neuron-specific enolase, chromogranin, neurofilament triplet proteins, the brain protein S100 and antibodies to a variety of regulatory peptides. Peptides present in the gut and lung innervation include: vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP), peptide histidine isoleucine (PHI), galanin, substance P, calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), neuropeptide tyrosine (NPY), somatostatin and cholecystokinin (the latter two are also localised to endocrine cells of the gut). Bombesin-immunoreactivity is found in nerves in the gut and in endocrine cells of the foetal/neonatal lung. Neuropeptides of the gut and lung originate either from local neurons (e.g. VIP, PHI, galanin) or extrinsic neurons localised in sensory ganglia (e.g. substance P and CGRP) or the sympathetic chain (e.g. NPY). Recent studies point to the involvement of regulatory peptides in diseases of the gut and lung. These, together with detailed distribution studies, provide supportive data on the putative role of the peptides in the control of normal bowel and respiratory functions. The gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts were within the systems investigated by Feyrter during his original observations on the existence of specialised epithelial cells with a putative regulatory function (Feyrter, 1938). These "endocrine/paracrine" cells were found to be scattered in epithelial organs throughout the body. In fact, endocrine cells of the respiratory tract are frequently referred to as "Feyrter's cells". The term "regulatory peptides" was introduced as a generic term (Polak and Bloom, 1983) after the finding that active peptides are produced both by cells of the diffuse endocrine or APUD (amine precursor uptake and decarboxylation) system (Pearse, 1983) and autonomic/sensory nerves. These peptides are released into the circulation from endocrine cells or locally from nerve terminals or paracrine cells. The concept of "gut/brain" peptides was dispelled after the findings that the respiratory tract was provided abundantly with numerous active peptides produced by and released from mucosal endocrine cells and/or the innervation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcitonin Gene-Related Peptide
  • Cholecystokinin / physiology
  • Digestive System Physiological Phenomena*
  • Enkephalins / physiology
  • Galanin
  • Histocytochemistry
  • Humans
  • Immunochemistry
  • Lung / physiology
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / physiology
  • Neurokinin B* / analogs & derivatives*
  • Neuropeptide Y
  • Oligopeptides / physiology
  • Peptide PHI
  • Peptides / analysis
  • Peptides / physiology*
  • Respiratory Physiological Phenomena*
  • Somatostatin / physiology
  • Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide / physiology


  • Enkephalins
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Neuropeptide Y
  • Oligopeptides
  • Peptide PHI
  • Peptides
  • Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide
  • Somatostatin
  • Neurokinin B
  • neuromedin B
  • Galanin
  • Cholecystokinin
  • Calcitonin Gene-Related Peptide