Acute activation of bronchopulmonary vagal nociceptors by type I interferons

Mayur J. Patil, Fei Ru, Hui Sun, Jingya Wang, Roland R. Kolbeck, Xinzhong Dong, Marian Kollarik, Brendan J Canning, Bradley J. Undem

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Key points: Type I interferon receptors are expressed by the majority of vagal C-fibre neurons innervating the respiratory tract Interferon alpha and beta acutely and directly activate vagal C-fibers in the airways. The interferon-induced activation of C-fibers occurs secondary to stimulation of type 1 interferon receptors Type 1 interferons may contribute to the symptoms as well as the spread of respiratory viral infections by causing coughing and other defensive reflexes associated with vagal C-fibre activation. Abstract: We evaluated the ability of type I interferons to acutely activate airway vagal afferent nerve terminals in mouse lungs. Using single cell RT-PCR of lung-specific vagal neurons we found that IFNAR1 and IFNAR2 were expressed in 70% of the TRPV1-positive neurons (a marker for vagal C-fibre neurons) and 44% of TRPV1-negative neurons. We employed an ex vivo vagal innervated mouse trachea-lung preparation to evaluate the effect of interferons in directly activating airway nerves. Utilizing 2-photon microscopy of the nodose ganglion neurons from Pirt-Cre;R26-GCaMP6s mice we found that applying IFNα or IFNβ to the lungs acutely activated the majority of vagal afferent nerve terminals. When the type 1 interferon receptor, IFNAR1, was blocked with a blocking antibody the response to IFNβ was largely inhibited. The type 2 interferon, IFNγ, also activated airway nerves and this was not inhibited by the IFNAR1 blocking antibody. The Janus kinase inhibitor GLPG0634 (1 μm) virtually abolished the nerve activation caused by IFNβ. Consistent with the activation of vagal afferent C-fibers, infusing IFNβ into the mouse trachea led to defensive breathing reflexes including apneas and gasping. These reflexes were prevented by pretreatment with an IFN type-1 receptor blocking antibody. Finally, using whole cell patch-clamp electrophysiology of lung-specific neurons we found that IFNβ (1000 U ml−1) directly depolarized the membrane potential of isolated nodose neurons, in some cases beyond to action potential threshold. This acute non-genomic activation of vagal sensory nerve terminals by interferons may contribute to the incessant coughing that is a hallmark of respiratory viral infections.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Physiology
StateAccepted/In press - 2020


  • 2-photon
  • airway lung nerve terminals
  • cough
  • IFN type I receptors
  • IFNα
  • IFNβ
  • IFNγ
  • interferons
  • vagal afferents
  • vagal C-fibers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology

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