BACKGROUND Evidence suggests proinflammatory changes in the lungs during acute myocardial infarction and a participation of neural mechanisms and substance P in the pathology. This study was undertaken to investigate the role and the mechanisms by which sensory afferent degeneration at neonatal stages exacerbates the pulmonary inflammatory responses to acute myocardial infarction in the adult rats. METHODS The degeneration of capsaicin-sensitive afferent nerves was induced by administration of capsaicin to neonatal rats. The pulmonary inflammatory changes following coronary artery occlusion (CAO) were assessed by the analysis of the infiltration of neutrophils and tissue morphology in the lungs. RESULTS Significant increases in the pulmonary infiltration of neutrophils, up to 240% and 218% of the sham controls at 3 and 6 h, respectively, after CAO (P<.05) and marked pulmonary edema were observed. Degeneration of capsaicin-sensitive afferent nerves or antagonism of endogenous neurokinin (NK)-1 receptor exacerbated the pulmonary infiltration of neutrophils (up to 214% and 254% of the controls, respectively) and pulmonary tissue edema following the CAO. CONCLUSION The findings indicate that degeneration of sensory afferent nerves enhances the pulmonary inflammatory changes in acute myocardial infarction, in which the endogenous NK may play a role.