We have identified the tracheal and laryngeal afferent nerves regulating cough in anaesthetized guinea-pigs. Cough was evoked by electrical or mechanical stimulation of the tracheal or laryngeal mucosa, or by citric acid applied topically to the trachea or larynx. By contrast, neither capsaicin nor bradykinin challenges to the trachea or larynx evoked cough. Bradykinin and histamine administered intravenously also failed to evoke cough. Electrophysiological studies revealed that the majority of capsaicin-sensitive afferent neurones (both Aδ- and C-fibres) innervating the rostral trachea and larynx have their cell bodies in the jugular ganglia and project to the airways via the superior laryngeal nerves. Capsaicin-insensitive afferent neurones with cell bodies in the nodose ganglia projected to the rostral trachea and larynx via the recurrent laryngeal nerves. Severing the recurrent nerves abolished coughing evoked from the trachea and larynx whereas severing the superior laryngeal nerves was without effect on coughing. The data indicate that the tracheal and laryngeal afferent neurones regulating cough are polymodal Aδ-fibres that arise from the nodose ganglia. These afferent neurones are activated by punctate mechanical stimulation and acid but are unresponsive to capsaicin, bradykinin, smooth muscle contraction, longitudinal or transverse stretching of the airways, or distension. Comparing these physiological properties with those of intrapulmonary mechanoreceptors indicates that the afferent neurones mediating cough are quite distinct from the well-defined rapidly and slowly adapting stretch receptors innervating the airways and lungs. We propose that these airway afferent neurones represent a distinct subtype and that their primary function is regulation of the cough reflex.
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