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Handb Exp Pharmacol. 2009;(187):23-47. doi: 10.1007/978-3-540-79842-2_2.

Cough sensors. I. Physiological and pharmacological properties of the afferent nerves regulating cough.

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  • 1Johns Hopkins Asthma and Allergy Center, 5501 Hopkins Bayview Circle, Rm. 3A.24, Baltimore, MD 21224, USA.


The afferent nerves regulating cough have been reasonably well defined. The selective effects of general anesthesia on C-fiber-dependent cough and the opposing effects of C-fiber subtypes in cough have led to some uncertainty about their regulation of this defensive reflex. But a role for C-fibers in cough seems almost certain, given the unique pharmacological properties of these unmyelinated vagal afferent nerves and the ability of many C-fiber-selective stimulants to evoke cough. The role of myelinated laryngeal, tracheal, and bronchial afferent nerve subtypes that can be activated by punctate mechanical stimuli, inhaled particulates, accumulated secretions, and acid has also been demonstrated. These "cough receptors" are distinct from the slowly and rapidly adapting intrapulmonary stretch receptors responding to lung inflation. Indeed, intrapulmonary rapidly and slowly adapting receptors and pulmonary C-fibers may play no role or a nonessential role in cough, or might even actively inhibit cough upon activation. A critical review of the studies of the afferent nerve subtypes most often implicated in cough is provided.

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