Many elements in the environment, such as allergens and chemicals mixed into the air, can have an effect on our bodies. Our lungs have small pulmonary neuroendocrine cells (PNECs), which have recently been found to behave like a sensor: they collect and 'understand' precise information about the surrounding air, before sending this information to the brain. The brain then returns signals to the PNECs, causing them to release small molecules called neuropeptides, which help the immune system to protect the body. These PNECs, pictured in red, are found sprinkled among the cells that line the airway of the lungs (in green). They are the only known cells in the airway that are linked to the nervous system. Defining the role of these cells may help us to understand and maybe even prevent diseases such as asthma.
Written by Katie Panteli
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