Sensing pulmonary oxidative stress by lung vagal afferents

Thomas E. Taylor-Clark, Bradley J. Undem

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Oxidative stress in the bronchopulmonary airways can occur through a variety of inflammatory mechanisms and also following the inhalation of environmental pollutants. Oxidative stress causes cellular dysfunction and thus mammals (including humans) have developed mechanisms for detecting oxidative stress, such that defensive behavior and defensive biological mechanisms can be induced to lessen its potential damage. Vagal sensory nerves innervating the airways play a critical role in the detection of the microenvironment in the airways. Oxidative stress and associated compounds activate unmyelinated bronchopulmonary C-fibers, initiating action potentials in these nerves that conduct centrally to evoke unpleasant sensations (e.g. urge to cough, dyspnea, chest-tightness) and to stimulate/modulate reflexes (e.g. cough, bronchoconstriction, respiratory rate, inspiratory drive). This review will summarize the published evidence regarding the mechanisms by which oxidative stress, reactive oxygen species, environmental pollutants and lipid products of peroxidation activate bronchopulmonary C-fibers. Evidence suggests a key role for transient receptor potential ankyrin 1 (TRPA1), although transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1) and purinergic P2X channels may also play a role. Knowledge of these pathways greatly aids our understanding of the role of oxidative stress in health and disease and represents novel therapeutic targets for diseases of the airways.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)406-413
Number of pages8
JournalRespiratory Physiology and Neurobiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 30 2011


  • Action potential
  • Adduct
  • Afferent
  • Airways
  • Allyl iosthiocyanate
  • Asthma
  • Bronchopulmonary
  • C-fiber
  • COPD
  • Capsaicin
  • Cinnamaldehyde
  • Cysteine
  • Electrophile
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Lung
  • Mustard oil
  • Nerve
  • Neuron
  • Nociception
  • Nociceptor
  • Oxidative stress
  • P2X
  • ROS
  • Reactive oxygen species
  • Superoxide
  • TRPA1
  • TRPV1
  • Transient receptor potential

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine


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