Dis Model Mech. 2020 Dec 21;13(12):dmm046920. doi: 10.1242/dmm.046920.
Mammalian lungs have the ability to recognize external environments by sensing different compounds in inhaled air. Pulmonary neuroendocrine cells (PNECs) are rare, multi-functional epithelial cells currently garnering attention as intrapulmonary sensors; PNECs can detect hypoxic conditions through chemoreception. Because PNEC overactivation has been reported in patients suffering from respiratory diseases – such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchopulmonary dysplasia and other congenital diseases – an improved understanding of the fundamental characteristics of PNECs is becoming crucial in pulmonary biology and pathology. During the past decade, murine genetics and disease models revealed the involvement of PNECs in lung ventilation dynamics, mechanosensing and the type 2 immune responses. Single-cell RNA sequencing further unveiled heterogeneous gene expression profiles in the PNEC population and revealed that a small number of PNECs undergo reprogramming during regeneration. Aberrant large clusters of PNECs have been observed in neuroendocrine tumors, including small-cell lung cancer (SCLC). Modern innovation of imaging analyses has enabled the discovery of dynamic migratory behaviors of PNECs during airway development, perhaps relating to SCLC malignancy. This Review summarizes the findings from research on PNECs, along with novel knowledge about their function. In addition, it thoroughly addresses the relevant questions concerning the molecular pathology of pulmonary diseases and related therapeutic approaches.