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Transformation of adrenal medullary chromaffin cells increases asthmatic susceptibility in pups from allergen-sensitized rats

Jun-Tao Feng1, Xiu-Ming Wu1, Xiao-Zhao Li1, Ye-Qiang Zou12, Ling Qin1 and Cheng-Ping Hu1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Respiratory Medicine, Xiangya Hospital, Central South University, Changsha, China

2 Department of Respiratory Medicine, First People’s Hospital of Changde, Changde, China

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Respiratory Research 2012, 13:99  doi:10.1186/1465-9921-13-99

Published: 8 November 2012



Studies have shown that epinephrine release is impaired in patients with asthma. The pregnancy of female rats (dams) with asthma promotes in their pups the differentiation of adrenal medulla chromaffin cells (AMCCs) into sympathetic neurons, mediated by nerve growth factor, which leads to a reduction in epinephrine secretion. However, the relatedness between the alteration of AMCCs and increased asthma susceptibility in such offspring has not been established.


In this study, we observed the effects of allergization via ovalbumin on rat pups born of asthmatic dams.


Compared to the offspring of untreated controls, bronchial hyperreactivity and airway inflammation were more severe in the pups from sensitized (asthmatic) dams. In pups exposed to nerve growth factor (NGF) in utero these effects were aggravated further, but the effects were blocked in pups whose dams had been treated with anti-NGF. Furthermore, alterations in AMCC phenotype corresponded to the degree of bronchial hyperreactivity and lung lesions of the different treatment groups. Such AMCC alterations included degranulation of chromaffin granules, reduction of epinephrine and phenylethanolamine-n-methyl transferase, and elevation of NGF and peripherin levels.


Our results present evidence that asthma during the pregnancy of rat dams promotes asthma susceptibility in their offspring, and that the transformation of AMCCs to neurons induced by NGF plays an important role in this process.

Maternal asthma; Offspring; Susceptibility; Adrenal medulla chromaffin cell; Transformation