Pulmonary neuroendocrine cells function as airway sensors to control lung immune response

Science. 2016 Feb 12;351(6274):707-10. doi: 10.1126/science.aad7969. Epub 2016 Jan 7.


The lung is constantly exposed to environmental atmospheric cues. How it senses and responds to these cues is poorly defined. Here, we show that Roundabout receptor (Robo) genes are expressed in pulmonary neuroendocrine cells (PNECs), a rare, innervated epithelial population. Robo inactivation in mouse lung results in an inability of PNECs to cluster into sensory organoids and triggers increased neuropeptide production upon exposure to air. Excess neuropeptides lead to an increase in immune infiltrates, which in turn remodel the matrix and irreversibly simplify the alveoli. We demonstrate in vivo that PNECs act as precise airway sensors that elicit immune responses via neuropeptides. These findings suggest that the PNEC and neuropeptide abnormalities documented in a wide array of pulmonary diseases may profoundly affect symptoms and progression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Clodronic Acid / pharmacology
  • Lung / cytology
  • Lung / immunology*
  • Lung Diseases / genetics
  • Lung Diseases / immunology
  • Macrophages / drug effects
  • Macrophages / immunology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Mutant Strains
  • Mutation
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / genetics
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / physiology*
  • Neuroendocrine Cells / immunology*
  • Neuroendocrine Cells / metabolism
  • Neuropeptides / biosynthesis*
  • Receptors, Immunologic / genetics
  • Receptors, Immunologic / physiology*
  • Roundabout Proteins


  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Neuropeptides
  • Receptors, Immunologic
  • Clodronic Acid