Habitual snoring precedes obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), but the pathophysiological mechanisms behind progression are still unclear. The patency of upper airways depends on a reflexogen mechanism reacting on negative intrapharyngeal pressure at inspiration, probably mediated by mucosal receptors, i.e., via afferent nerve endings. Such nerves contain a specific nerve protein, protein-gene product 9.5 (PGP 9.5) and in some cases substance P (SP) and calcitonin gene-related (CGRP). Biopsies of the soft palatial mucosa were obtained from non-smoking men ten OSA patients, 11 habitual snorers and 11 non-snoring controls. The specimens were immunohistochemically analyzed for PGP 9.5, SP and CGRP. As compared to controls, an increased number of PGP-, SP- and CGRP-immunoreactive nerves were demonstrated in the mucosa in 9/10 OSA patients and 4/11 snorers, in addition to varicose nerve endings in the papillae and epithelium. Using double staining methodology, it could be shown that SP- and CGRP-like immunoreactivities (LIs) often coexisted in these fibres, as did CGRP- and PGP 9.5-LIs. The increased density in sensory nerve terminals are interpreted to indicate an afferent nerve lesion. Our results support the hypothesis of a progressive neurogenic lesion as a contributory factor to the collapse of upper airways during sleep in OSA patients.