An ex vivo, vagally innervated, lung preparation was used to address the hypothesis that vagal C-fibres comprise at least two distinct phenotypes. Histological and extracellular electrophysiological experiments revealed that vagal C-fibres innervating the pulmonary system are derived from cell bodies situated in two distinct vagal sensory ganglia. The jugular (superior) ganglion neurones project C-fibres to both the extrapulmonary airways (larynx, trachea and bronchus) and the lung parenchymal tissue. By contrast, C-fibres from nodose (inferior) neurones innervate primarily structures within the lungs. Histologically, nodose neurones projecting lung C-fibres were different from the jugular neurones in that they were significantly less likely to express neurokinins. The nerve terminals within the lungs of both nodose and jugular C-fibres responded with action potential discharge to capsaicin and bradykinin application, but only the nodose C-fibre population responded with action potential discharge to the P2X selective receptor agonist α/β-methylene-ATP. Whole cell patch clamp recording of capsaicin-sensitive nodose and jugular ganglion neurones retrogradely labelled from the lung tissue revealed that, like the nerve terminals, lung specific nodose C-fibre neurones express functional P2X receptors, whereas lung specific jugular C-fibres do not. The data support the hypothesis that both neural crest-derived neurones (jugular ganglia) and placode-derived neurones (nodose ganglia) project C-fibres in the vagus, and that these two C-fibre populations represent distinct phenotypes.
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