Vagal Sensory Neuron Subtypes that Differentially Control Breathing

Cell. 2015 Apr 23;161(3):622-633. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2015.03.022. Epub 2015 Apr 16.


Breathing is essential for survival and under precise neural control. The vagus nerve is a major conduit between lung and brain required for normal respiration. Here, we identify two populations of mouse vagus nerve afferents (P2ry1, Npy2r), each a few hundred neurons, that exert powerful and opposing effects on breathing. Genetically guided anatomical mapping revealed that these neurons densely innervate the lung and send long-range projections to different brainstem targets. Npy2r neurons are largely slow-conducting C fibers, while P2ry1 neurons are largely fast-conducting A fibers that contact pulmonary endocrine cells (neuroepithelial bodies). Optogenetic stimulation of P2ry1 neurons acutely silences respiration, trapping animals in exhalation, while stimulating Npy2r neurons causes rapid, shallow breathing. Activating P2ry1 neurons did not impact heart rate or gastric pressure, other autonomic functions under vagal control. Thus, the vagus nerve contains intermingled sensory neurons constituting genetically definable labeled lines with different anatomical connections and physiological roles.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Stem / physiology
  • Lung / innervation
  • Mice
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / metabolism
  • Respiration*
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / cytology
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / physiology*
  • Vagus Nerve / cytology*
  • Vagus Nerve / physiology


  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled