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Regul Pept. 1997 Jul 23;71(1):29-36.

Abnormal afferent nerve endings in the soft palatal mucosa of sleep apnoics and habitual snorers.

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Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Söder Hospital, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden.


Habitual snoring precedes obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), but the pathophysiological mechanisms behind progression are still unclear. The patency of upper airways depends on a reflexogen mechanism reacting on negative intrapharyngeal pressure at inspiration, probably mediated by mucosal receptors, i.e., via afferent nerve endings. Such nerves contain a specific nerve protein, protein-gene product 9.5 (PGP 9.5) and in some cases substance P (SP) and calcitonin gene-related (CGRP). Biopsies of the soft palatial mucosa were obtained from non-smoking men ten OSA patients, 11 habitual snorers and 11 non-snoring controls. The specimens were immunohistochemically analyzed for PGP 9.5, SP and CGRP. As compared to controls, an increased number of PGP-, SP- and CGRP-immunoreactive nerves were demonstrated in the mucosa in 9/10 OSA patients and 4/11 snorers, in addition to varicose nerve endings in the papillae and epithelium. Using double staining methodology, it could be shown that SP- and CGRP-like immunoreactivities (LIs) often coexisted in these fibres, as did CGRP- and PGP 9.5-LIs. The increased density in sensory nerve terminals are interpreted to indicate an afferent nerve lesion. Our results support the hypothesis of a progressive neurogenic lesion as a contributory factor to the collapse of upper airways during sleep in OSA patients.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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