Neuroanatomy of the Airways

  • John Widdicombe
Part of the Allergy Frontiers book series (ALLERGY, volume 2)


Both the nose and the lower airways are innervated by the parasysmpathetic and sympathetic systems: the former has both sensory and motor functions, but the latter only motor. In the nose, parasympathetic afferent nerves can cause reflex apnoea, sneeze and sniff, and strong changes in the autonomic nervous system in relation to the cardiovascular system, the larynx and the lungs. Parasympathetic and sympathetic motor nerves to the nose cause vascular and secretory effects. In the lower airways many neural sensors have been described: slowly and rapidly adapting stretch receptors, C-fibre receptors, various ‘cough receptors’ and neuroepithelial bodies. Parasympathetic (vagal) pathways conduct many reflexes from these peripheral sensors: cough of different patterns, apnoeas, gasps and cardiovascular, bronchomotor and laryngomotor changes. These reflexes have been shown to exhibit ‘plasticity’ in various physiological and pathological conditions. The motor supply to the lungs is parasympathetic and sympathetic, with a number of different subdivisions based mainly on the mediators released. These affect airway smooth muscle, bronchial and pulmonary vascular beds and airway secretory tissues. For both the nose and the lower airways the afferent and efferent neural supplies interact in highly complex central nervous system ‘centres’ which are, thankfully, beyond the scope of this review.


Airway Smooth Muscle Allergy Clin Immunol Vasoactive Intestinal Polypeptide Neurogenic Inflammation Nodose Ganglion 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Widdicombe
    • 1
  1. 1.University of LondonLondonUK

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