Research ArticleOpen Access

Inflammation-induced plasticity of the afferent innervation of the airways.

    Published: by:34

    The activation of primary afferent neurons that innervate the airways leads to homeostatic and defensive reflexes. The anatomic and physiologic characteristics of these afferent fibers do not appear to be static properties but rather appear to change rapidly in response to inflammation. The threshold for activation of airway afferent neurons to various stimuli, for example, is not fixed; these fibers can be become sensitized during inflammation. A subset of nociceptive-like (C-fibers) airway afferent neurons not only participates in centrally mediated reflexes but is also thought to release neuropeptides at their peripheral terminals, leading to neurogenic inflammation. An increase in the content of tachykinins is commonly seen in inflamed tissues, and there is accumulating evidence that irritation and inflammation of the airways is associated with the induction of tachykinin synthesis in non-nociceptive airway afferent fibers that under normal conditions do not contain neuropeptides. The release of neurokinins from the peripheral terminals in the airways and their central terminals in the brain stem may contribute to the symptoms of inflammatory airway diseases. Elevated release of neurokinins from peripheral terminals may promote local inflammatory responses, and the release of neurokinins in the brainstem, together with inflammation-induced increases in the excitability of afferent fibers, may culminate in altered visceral autonomic reflex activity, changes in breathing pattern, and cough.