Sensory detection and responses to toxic gases: mechanisms, health effects, and countermeasures.


Journal Article (Review)

The inhalation of reactive gases and vapors can lead to severe damage of the airways and lung, compromising the function of the respiratory system. Exposures to oxidizing, electrophilic, acidic, or basic gases frequently occur in occupational and ambient environments. Corrosive gases and vapors such as chlorine, phosgene, and chloropicrin were used as warfare agents and in terrorist acts. Chemical airway exposures are detected by the olfactory, gustatory, and nociceptive sensory systems that initiate protective physiological and behavioral responses. This review focuses on the role of airway nociceptive sensory neurons in chemical sensing and discusses the recent discovery of neuronal receptors for reactive chemicals. Using physiological, imaging, and genetic approaches, Transient Receptor Potential (TRP) ion channels in sensory neurons were shown to respond to a wide range of noxious chemical stimuli, initiating pain, respiratory depression, cough, glandular secretions, and other protective responses. TRPA1, a TRP ion channel expressed in chemosensory C-fibers, is activated by almost all oxidizing and electrophilic chemicals, including chlorine, acrolein, tear gas agents, and methyl isocyanate, the highly noxious chemical released in the Bhopal disaster. Chemicals likely activate TRPA1 through covalent protein modification. Animal studies using TRPA1 antagonists or TRPA1-deficient mice confirmed the role of TRPA1 in chemically induced respiratory reflexes, pain, and inflammation in vivo. New research shows that sensory neurons are not merely passive sensors of chemical exposures. Sensory channels such as TRPA1 are essential for maintenance of airway inflammation in asthma and may contribute to the progression of airway injury following high-level chemical exposures.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Bessac, BF; Jordt, S-E

Published Date

  • July 2010

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 7 / 4

Start / End Page

  • 269 - 277

PubMed ID

  • 20601631

Pubmed Central ID

  • 20601631

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1943-5665

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1513/pats.201001-004SM


  • eng

Conference Location

  • United States