Molecules, nerve cells in brain trigger sneezes; understanding may point to ways to quell spread of infectious viruses
June 15, 2021

A tickle in the nose can help trigger a sneeze, expelling irritants and disease-causing pathogens. But the cellular pathways that control the sneeze reflex go far beyond the sinuses and have been poorly understood. Now, a team led by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has identified, in mice, specific cells and proteins that control the sneeze reflex.

“We study the neural mechanism behind sneezing because so many people, including members of my own family, sneeze because of problems such as seasonal allergies and viral infections,” said Qin Liu, Ph.D., a researcher in the university’s Center for the Study of Itch and Sensory Disorders. “Our goal is to understand how neurons behave in response to allergies and viral infections, including how they contribute to itchy eyes, sneezing and other symptoms. Our recent studies have uncovered links between nerve cells and other systems that could help in the development of treatments for sneezing and for fighting infectious respiratory diseases.”