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Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2002 Nov 1;166(9):1269-81.

Three-dimensional mapping of sensory innervation with substance p in porcine bronchial mucosa: comparison with human airways.

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  • 1Department of Physiology, University of Western Australia, Nedlands, Western Australia.


In asthma, neurogenic inflammation in bronchial airways may occur though the release of neuropeptides from C fibers via an axon reflex. Structural evidence for this neural pathway was sought in the pig and in humans by three-dimensional mapping of substance P-immunoreactive (SP-IR) nerves in whole mounts of mucosa using immunofluorescent staining and confocal microscopy. To show continuity, nerves were traced with 1,1'-didodecyl-3,3,3',3'-tetramethyl indocarbocyanine perchlorate from their epithelial endings through the mucosa. The pan-neuronal marker protein gene product 9.5 revealed an extensive apical and basal plexus of nerves in the epithelium; 94% of these were varicose SP-IR fibers. Apical SP-IR fibers had a length density of 88 mm/mm(2). Varicose apical processes followed closely around the circumference of goblet cells. Calcitonin gene-related peptide was colocalized with SP-IR in varicosites. The epithelial fibers converged into bundles as they entered the lamina propria where lateral branches ran along arterioles, often contiguous with the vascular smooth muscle. 1,1'-didodecyl-3,3,3',3'-tetramethyl indocarbocyanine perchlorate tracing showed that they projected to the epithelium. SP-IR fibers were rare near postcapillary venules. In human bronchial epithelium, protein gene product 9.5 revealed a similar apical and basal plexus of varicose fibers that weakly stained for SP-IR. Thus, a continuous sensory nerve pathway from the epithelium to arterioles provides structural support for a local axon reflex.

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