Central pathways of pulmonary and lower airway vagal afferents

Leszek Kubin, George F. Alheid, Edward J. Zuperku, Donald R. McCrimmon*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

362 Scopus citations


Lung sensory receptors with afferent fibers coursing in the vagus nerves are broadly divided into three groups: slowly (SAR) and rapidly (RAR) adapting stretch receptors and bronchopulmonary C fibers. Central terminations of each group are found in largely nonoverlapping regions of the caudal half of the nucleus of the solitary tract (NTS). Second order neurons in the pathways from these receptors innervate neurons located in respiratory-related regions of the medulla, pons, and spinal cord. The relative ease of selective activation of SARs, and to a lesser extent RARs, has allowed for more complete physiological and morphological characterization of the second and higher order neurons in these pathways than for C fibers. A subset of NTS neurons receiving afferent input from SARs (termed pump or P-cells) mediates the Breuer-Hering reflex and inhibits neurons receiving afferent input from RARs. P-cells and second order neurons in the RAR pathway also provide inputs to regions of the ventrolateral medulla involved in control of respiratory motor pattern, i.e., regions containing a predominance of bulbospinal premotor neurons, as well as regions containing respiratory rhythm-generating neurons. Axon collaterals from both P-cells and RAR interneurons, and likely from NTS interneurons in the C-fiber pathway, project to the parabrachial pontine region where they may contribute to plasticity in respiratory control and integration of respiratory control with other systems, including those that provide for voluntary control of breathing, sleep-wake behavior, and emotions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)618-627
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of applied physiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2006


  • C-fiber afferents
  • Central pathways
  • Lung reflexes
  • Rapidly adapting receptor
  • Respiratory control
  • Slowly adapting pulmonary stretch receptor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


Dive into the research topics of 'Central pathways of pulmonary and lower airway vagal afferents'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this