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J Appl Physiol (1985). 2006 Aug;101(2):628-34. Epub 2006 Apr 6.

Reflexes from the lungs and airways: historical perspective.

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Univ. of London, 116 Pepys Rd., London SW20 8NY, UK.


Historical aspects of respiratory reflexes from the lungs and airways are reviewed, up until about 10 yr ago. For most of the 19th century, the possible reflex inputs into the "respiratory center," the position of which had been identified, were very speculative. There was little concept of reflex control of the pattern of breathing. Then, in 1868, Breuer published his paper on "The self-steering of respiration via the Nervus Vagus." For the first time this established the role of vagal inflation and deflation reflexes in determining the pattern of breathing. Head later extended Breuer's work, and Kratschmer laid a similar basis for reflexes from the nose and larynx. Then, 50-60 yr later, the development of the thermionic valve and the oscilloscope allowed recording action potentials from single nerve fibers in the vagus. In 1933, Adrian showed that slowly adapting pulmonary stretch receptors were responsible for the inflation reflex. Later, Knowlton and Larrabee described rapidly adapting receptors and showed that they mediated deep augmented breaths and the deflation reflex. Still later, it was established that rapidly adapting receptors were, at least in part, responsible for cough. In 1954, Paintal began his study of C-fiber receptors (J receptors), work greatly extended by the Coleridges. Since approximately 10 yr ago, when the field of this review stops, there has been an explosion of research on lung and airway receptors, many aspects of which are dealt with in other papers in this series.

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