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J Neurocytol. 2004 Dec;33(6):631-46. Epub 2005 Oct 11.

Building sensory receptors on the tongue.

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  • 1Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, USA.


Neurotrophins, neurotrophin receptors and sensory neurons are required for the development of lingual sense organs. For example, neurotrophin 3 sustains lingual somatosensory neurons. In the traditional view, sensory axons will terminate where neurotrophin expression is most pronounced. Yet, lingual somatosensory axons characteristically terminate in each filiform papilla and in each somatosensory prominence within a cluster of cells expressing the p75 neurotrophin receptor (p75NTR), rather than terminating among the adjacent cells that secrete neurotrophin 3. The p75NTR on special specialized clusters of epithelial cells may promote axonal arborization in vivo since its over-expression by fibroblasts enhances neurite outgrowth from overlying somatosensory neurons in vitro. Two classical observations have implicated gustatory neurons in the development and maintenance of mammalian taste buds--the early arrival times of embryonic innervation and the loss of taste buds after their denervation in adults. In the modern era more than a dozen experimental studies have used early denervation or neurotrophin gene mutations to evaluate mammalian gustatory organ development. Necessary for taste organ development, brain-derived neurotrophic factor sustains developing gustatory neurons. The cardinal conclusion is readily summarized: taste buds in the palate and tongue are induced by innervation. Taste buds are unstable: the death and birth of taste receptor cells relentlessly remodels synaptic connections. As receptor cells turn over, the sensory code for taste quality is probably stabilized by selective synapse formation between each type of gustatory axon and its matching taste receptor cell. We anticipate important new discoveries of molecular interactions among the epithelium, the underlying mesenchyme and gustatory innervation that build the gustatory papillae, their specialized epithelial cells, and the resulting taste buds.

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