The tachykinin NK1 receptor. Part II: Distribution and pathophysiological roles

Neuropeptides. 1998 Feb;32(1):1-49. doi: 10.1016/s0143-4179(98)90015-4.


The tachykinin NK1 receptor is widely distributed in both the central and peripheral nervous system. In the CNS, NK1 receptors have been implicated in various behavioural responses and in regulating neuronal survival and degeneration. Moreover, central NK1 receptors regulate cardiovascular and respiratory function and are involved in activating the emetic reflex. At the spinal cord level, NK1 receptors are activated during the synaptic transmission, especially in response to noxious stimuli applied at the receptive field of primary afferent neurons. Both neurophysiological and behavioural evidences support a role of spinal NK1 receptors in pain transmission. Spinal NK1 receptors also modulate autonomic reflexes, including the micturition reflex. In the peripheral nervous system, tachykinin NK1 receptors are widely expressed in the respiratory, genitourinary and gastrointestinal tracts and are also expressed by several types of inflammatory and immune cells. In the cardiovascular system, NK1 receptors mediate endothelium-dependent vasodilation and plasma protein extravasation. At respiratory level, NK1 receptors mediate neurogenic inflammation which is especially evident upon exposure of the airways to irritants. In the carotid body, NK1 receptors mediate the ventilatory response to hypoxia. In the gastrointestinal system, NK1 receptors mediate smooth muscle contraction, regulate water and ion secretion and mediate neuro-neuronal communication. In the genitourinary tract, NK1 receptors are widely distributed in the renal pelvis, ureter, urinary bladder and urethra and mediate smooth muscle contraction and inflammation in response to noxious stimuli. Based on the knowledge of distribution and pathophysiological roles of NK1 receptors, it has been anticipated that NK1 receptor antagonists may have several therapeutic applications at central and peripheral level. At central level, it is speculated that NK1 receptor antagonists could be used to produce analgesia, as antiemetics and for treatment of certain forms of urinary incontinence due to detrusor hyperreflexia. In the peripheral nervous system, tachykinin NK1 receptor antagonists could be used in several inflammatory diseases including arthritis, inflammatory bowel diseases and cystitis. Several potent tachykinin NK1 receptor antagonists are now under evaluation in the clinical setting, and more information on their usefulness in treatment of human diseases will be available in the next few years.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Brain Chemistry
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / physiopathology
  • Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology
  • Peripheral Nervous System / chemistry
  • Peripheral Nervous System / physiopathology
  • Receptors, Neurokinin-1 / analysis*
  • Receptors, Neurokinin-1 / physiology*
  • Spinal Cord / chemistry
  • Spinal Cord / physiopathology


  • Receptors, Neurokinin-1