Met-enkephalin (Met-Enk) and Leu-enkephalin (Leu-Enk), the opioid peptides originally isolated from the brain, are believed to act as inhibitory neuromodulators at various synaptic sites. In this immunohistochemical study, we have investigated the localization and distribution of Met- and Leu-Enk immunoreactivities in airways and pulmonary vessels of guinea pigs and rats. Immunoreactivities to both peptides were found in nerve fibers and nerve terminals distributed mainly to the trachea and major bronchi, and were especially prevalent in the smooth muscle layer, in the lamina propria, and around tracheal and bronchial glands, but not in the epithelium. Few immunoreactive nerve fibers were detected in smaller bronchi, bronchioles, and alveoli. Enkephalin-immunoreactive nerve fibers were also localized in the walls of pulmonary and bronchial vessels. Within airway microganglia, immunoreactivity was observed in a few nerve terminals, but not in ganglion cell bodies. Met- and Leu-Enk immunoreactive nerve fibers showed similar distribution patterns, though minor differences were noted between the two species: Enk-immunoreactive nerve fibers in the smooth muscle layer were more abundant in guinea pigs than in rats, whereas those in mucous glands were richer in rats than in guinea pigs. These results document the presence of Met- and Leu-Enk immunoreactivity in nerve fibers supplying guinea pig and rat airways and pulmonary vessels, and provide a morphologic basis for the view that enkephalins are likely neurotransmitters of neuromodulators in the lung.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine