European Respiratory Society


Airway neurogenic inflammation is caused by tachykinins released from peripheral nerve endings of sensory neurons within the airways, and is characterized by plasma protein extravasation, airway smooth muscle contraction and increased secretion of mucus. Tachykinins are degraded and inactivated by neutral endopeptidase (NEP), a membrane-bound metallopeptidase, which is located mainly at the surface of airway epithelial cells, but is also present in airway smooth muscle cells, submucosal gland cells and fibroblasts. The key role of NEP in limiting and regulating the neurogenic inflammation provoked by different stimuli has been demonstrated in a large series of studies published in recent years. It has also been shown that a variety of factors, which are relevant for airway diseases, including viral infections, allergen exposure, inhalation of cigarette smoke and other respiratory irritants, is able to reduce NEP activity, thus enhancing the effects of tachykinins within the airways. On the basis of these observations, the reduction of neutral endopeptidase activity may be regarded as a factor that switches neurogenic airway responses from their physiological and protective functions to a detrimental role that increases and perpetuates airway inflammation. However, further studies are needed to assess the role of neutral endopeptidase down regulation in the pathogenesis of asthma and other inflammatory airway diseases.