An uncommon and little-studied type of cell in the lungs has been found to act like a sensor, linking the pulmonary and central nervous systems to regulate immune response in reaction to environmental cues.

The cells, known as pulmonary neuroendocrine cells or PNECs, are implicated in a wide range of human lung diseases, including asthma, pulmonary hypertension, cystic fibrosis and sudden infant death syndrome, among others.

“These cells make up less than one percent of the cells in the airway epithelium,” the layer of cells that lines the respiratory tract, explains Sun. “Our conclusion is that they are capable of receiving, interpreting and responding to environmental stimuli such as allergens or chemicals mixed with the air we breathe.”

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