Complex sensations accompany the activation of sensory neurons within the respiratory system, yet little is known about the organization of sensory pathways in the brain that mediate these sensations. In the present study, we employ anterograde viral neuroanatomical tract tracing with isogenic self-reporting recombinants of HSV-1 strain H129 to map the higher brain regions in receipt of vagal sensory neurons arising from the trachea versus the lungs, and single-cell PCR to characterize the phenotype of sensory neurons arising from these two divisions of the respiratory tree. The results suggest that the upper and lower airways are predominantly innervated by sensory neurons derived from the somatic jugular and visceral nodose cranial ganglia, respectively. This coincides with central circuitry that is predominately somatic-like, arising from the trachea, and visceral-like, arising from the lungs. Although some convergence of sensory pathways was noted in preautonomic cell groups, this was notably absent in thalamic and cortical regions. These data support the notion that distinct afferent subtypes, via distinct central circuits, subserve sensations arising from the upper versus lower airways. The findings may explain why sensations arising from different levels of the respiratory tree are qualitatively and quantitatively unique.
Keywords: Airway sensations; HSV-1 H129; Isogenic recombinant viruses; Somatosensory; Transynaptic; Viscerosensory.