Autonomic neural control of intrathoracic airways

Bradley J. Undem, Carl Potenzieri

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article


Autonomic neural control of the intrathoracic airways aids in optimizing air flow and gas exchange. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, the autonomic nervous system contributes to host defense of the respiratory tract. These functions are accomplished by tightly regulating airway caliber, blood flow, and secretions. Although both the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system innervate the airways, it is the later that dominates, especially with respect to control of airway smooth muscle and secretions. Parasympathetic tone in the airways is regulated by reflex activity often initiated by activation of airway stretch receptors and polymodal nociceptors. This review discusses the preganglionic, ganglionic, and postganglionic mechanisms of airway autonomic innervation. Additionally, it provides a brief overview of how dysregulation of the airway autonomic nervous system may contribute to respiratory diseases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1241-1267
Number of pages27
JournalComprehensive Physiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)

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