Neural changes underly hyperresponsiveness in asthma and other airway diseases. Afferent sensory nerves, nerves within the brainstem, and efferent parasympathetic nerves all contribute to airway hyperresponsiveness. Inflammation plays a critical role in these nerve changes. Chronic inflammation and pre-natal exposures lead to increased airway innervation and structural changes. Acute inflammation leads to shifts in neurotransmitter expression of afferent nerves and dysfunction of M2 muscarinic receptors on efferent nerve endings. Eosinophils and macrophages drive these changes through release of inflammatory mediators. Novel tools, including optogenetics, two photon microscopy, and optical clearing and whole mount microscopy, allow for improved studies of the structure and function of airway nerves and airway hyperresponsiveness.
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