Many airway sensory units respond to both lung inflation and deflation. Whether those responses to opposite stimuli come from one sensor (one-sensor theory) or more than one sensor (multiple-sensor theory) is debatable. One-sensor theory is commonly presumed in the literature. This article proposes a multiple-sensor theory in which a sensory unit contains different sensors for sensing different forces. Two major types of mechanical sensors operate in the lung: inflation- and deflation-activated receptors (DARs). Inflation-activated sensors can be further divided into slowly adapting receptors (SARs) and rapidly adapting receptors (RARs). Many SAR and RAR units also respond to lung deflation because they contain DARs. Pure DARs, which respond to lung deflation only, are rare in large animals but are easily identified in small animals. Lung deflation-induced reflex effects previously attributed to RARs should be assigned to DARs (including pure DARs and DARs associated with SARs and RARs) if the multiple-sensor theory is accepted. Thus, based on the information, it is proposed that activation of DARs can attenuate lung deflation, shorten expiratory time, increase respiratory rate, evoke inspiration, and cause airway secretion and dyspnea.
Keywords: afferents; lung deflation; receptors; reflex; vagus nerve.