Transient receptor potential (TRP) A1 and TRPM8 are ion channels that have been localized to afferent nociceptive nerves. These TRP channels may be of particular relevance to respiratory nociceptors in that they can be activated by various inhaled irritants and/or cold air. We addressed the hypothesis that mouse vagal sensory nerves projecting to the airways express TRPA1 and TRPM8 and that they can be activated via these receptors. Single cell RT-PCR analysis revealed that TRPA1 mRNA, but not TRPM8, is uniformly expressed in lung-labelled TRPV1-expressing vagal sensory neurons. Neither TRPA1 nor TRPM8 mRNA was expressed in TRPV1-negative neurons. Capsaicin-sensitive, but not capsaicin-insensitive, lung-specific neurons responded to cinnamaldehyde, a TRPA1 agonist, with increases in intracellular calcium. Menthol, a TRPM8 agonist, was ineffective at increasing cellular calcium in lung-specific vagal sensory neurons. Cinnamaldehyde also induced TRPA1-like inward currents (as measured by means of whole cell patch clamp recordings) in capsaicin-sensitive neurons. In an ex vivo vagal innervated mouse lung preparation, cinnamaldehyde evoked action potential discharge in mouse vagal C-fibres with a peak frequency similar to that observed with capsaicin. Cinnamaldehyde inhalation in vivo mimicked capsaicin in eliciting strong central-reflex changes in breathing pattern. Taken together, our results support the hypothesis that TRPA1, but not TRPM8, is expressed in vagal sensory nerves innervating the airways. TRPA1 activation provides a mechanism by which certain environmental stimuli may elicit action potential discharge in airway afferent C-fibres and the consequent nocifensor reflexes.
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