The structure of primary afferent nerve terminals profoundly influences their function. While the complex vagal airway nerve terminals (stretch receptors, cough receptors and neuroepithelial bodies) were thoroughly characterized, much less is known about the structure of airway nerves that do not form distinct complex terminals (often termed free nerve fibers). We selectively induced expression of GFP in vagal afferent nerves in the mouse by transfection with AAV-GFP virus vector and visualized nerve terminals in the trachea by whole organ confocal imaging. Based on structural characteristics we identified four types of vagal afferent nerve fiber terminals in the trachea. Importantly, we found that distinct compartments of tracheal tissue are innervated by distinct nerve fiber terminal types in a non-overlapping manner. Thus, separate terminal types innervate tracheal epithelium vs. anterolateral tracheal wall containing cartilaginous rings and ligaments vs. dorsal wall containing smooth muscle. Our results will aid the study of structure-function relationships in vagal airway afferent nerves and regulation of respiratory reflexes.
- Nerve structure
- Nerve terminals
- Vagus nerve
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine