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Biomedical Research

Brief: Ontogenesis of P2X3 receptor-expressing nerve fibres in the rat lung, with special reference to neuroepithelial bodies

Author(s): Inge Brouns, Jeroen Van Genechten, Geoffrey Burnstock, Jean-Pierre Timmermans

Vol. 14, No. 1 (2003-01 - 2003-06)

Inge Brouns, Jeroen Van Genechten, Geoffrey Burnstock, Jean-Pierre Timmermans

Correspondence to:

Professor Dr. Dirk Adriaensen
Laboratory of Cell Biology & Histology
University of Antwerp
Groenenborgerlaan 171
B-2020 Antwerp

Phone: +32-3-218.03.00
Fax: +32-3-218.03.01
e-mail: dadria(at)

Pulmonary neuroepithelial bodies (NEBs) are extensively innervated organoid groups of neuroendocrine cells present in the epithelium of intrapulmonary airways of all air-breathing vertebrates. In adult rat lungs, NEBs receive, among others, vagal nodose sensory nerve terminals that are immunoreactive for calbindin D28k (CB) and P2X3 ATP receptors. In the present study, immunoreactivity (IR) for P2X3 receptors, combined with immunostaining for CB (a marker for NEBs and their vagal sensory innervation), calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP; a marker for NEBs and their spinal sensory innervation) or myelin basic protein (MBP; a marker for myelin sheaths), was examined in the developing rat lung (gestational day (GD)15-PD40).

It was found that from GD15 onwards, P2X3 receptor-IR nerve fibres were also IR for CB, but not for CGRP, providing strong evidence for a vagal sensory origin of the P2X3-IR nerve fibre population in the lung, even before NEBs could be demonstrated. From GD19 onwards, P2X3 receptor-IR vagal sensory nerve fibres were seen to protrude between CB or CGRP-IR NEB cells, revealing many of the features of the nodose afferents in adult rat lungs. From PD10 onwards, the P2X3-IR nodose afferents contacting NEBs were revealed to be myelinated. The fact that vagal sensory nerve terminals in rat lungs express P2X3 receptor IR from the first moment they make contact with pulmonary NEBs, a few days before birth, suggests that NEBs may carry out important functions during late-foetal life, and reflects the importance of fully functional vagal sensors in NEBs at the time of birth, in addition to the proposed chemoreceptor and/or mechanoreceptor functions during later life.

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