Insulin increases sensory nerve density and reflex bronchoconstriction in obese mice

Gina N. Calco, Jessica N. Maung, David B. Jacoby, Allison D. Fryer, Zhenying Nie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Obesity-induced asthma responds poorly to all current pharmacological interventions, including steroids, suggesting that classic, eosinophilic inflammation is not a mechanism. Since insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia are common in obese individuals and associated with increased risk of asthma, we used diet-induced obese mice to study how insulin induces airway hyperreactivity. Inhaled 5-HT or methacholine induced dose-dependent bronchoconstriction that was significantly potentiated in obese mice. Cutting the vagus nerves eliminated bronchoconstriction in both obese and nonobese animals, indicating that it was mediated by a neural reflex. There was significantly greater density of airway sensory nerves in obese compared with nonobese mice. Deleting insulin receptors on sensory nerves prevented the increase in sensory nerve density and prevented airway hyperreactivity in obese mice with hyperinsulinemia. Our data demonstrate that high levels of insulin drives obesity-induced airway hyperreactivity by increasing sensory innervation of the airways. Therefore, pharmacological interventions to control metabolic syndrome and limit reflex-mediated bronchoconstriction may be a more effective approach to reduce asthma exacerbations in obese and patients with asthma.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere161898
JournalJCI Insight
Issue number20
StatePublished - Oct 24 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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