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Pulmonary neuroendocrine cells function as airway sensors to control lung immune response

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Science  12 Feb 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6274, pp. 707-710
DOI: 10.1126/science.aad7969

Neuroendocrine cells as air sensors

Liters of air pass through the lung every minute. Signals in the atmospheric environment are processed into physiological outputs, including the immune response. Branchfield et al. show that rare airway cells called pulmonary neuroendocrine cells (PNECs) sense and respond to airborne cues (see the Perspective by Whitsett and Morrisey). Inactivating Roundabout genes in mouse PNECs prevents normal PNEC clustering and causes an increase in the production of neuropeptides, which in turn trigger a heightened immune response. Thus PNECs, despite their rarity, are sensitive and effective rheostats on the airway wall that receive, interpret, and respond to environmental stimuli.

Science, this issue p. 707; see also p. 662