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Keywords:

  • autonomic;
  • pulmonary;
  • respiratory;
  • sensory;
  • vagus nerve

Abstract:  Vagal afferent nerves are the primary communication pathways between the bronchopulmonary system and the central nervous system. Input from airway afferent nerves to the CNS is integrated in the brainstem and ultimately leads to sensations and various reflex outputs. Afferent nerves innervating the airways can be classified into various distinct phenotypes. However, there is no single classification scheme that takes all features, including conduction velocity, cell body diameter, ganglionic origin, and stimuli to which they respond (modality) into account. At present, bronchopulmonary afferent nerves are typically considered to belong to one of three general categories, namely C-fibres, rapidly adapting stretch receptors (RARs), and slowly adapting stretch receptors (SARs). As our understanding of bronchopulmonary afferent nerves continues to deepen, we are likely to see more sophisticated classification schemes emerge. It is clear that the function of afferent fibres can be substantively influenced by airway inflammation and remodelling. The perturbations and perversions of afferent nerve function that occur during these states almost certainly contributes to many of the signs and symptoms of inflammatory airway disease. A more lucid characterization of bronchopulmonary afferent nerves, and a better understanding of the mechanisms by which these nerves influence pulmonary physiology during health and disease anticipates future research.