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J Neurocytol. 2000 Mar;29(3):147-56.

Identification of cytoskeletal markers for the different microvilli and cell types of the rat vomeronasal sensory epithelium.

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  • 1Institute of Anatomy, Koellikerstr. 6, 97070 Würzburg, Germany.


The vomeronasal organ (VNO) of the mammal nose is specialized to detect pheromones. The presumed site of the chemosensory signal transduction of pheromones is the vomeronasal brush border of the VNO sensory epithelium, which has been shown to contain two different sets of microvilli: (i) the tall microvilli of supporting cells and (ii) the short microvilli of the chemoreceptive VNO neurons that branch and intermingle with the basal portions of the longer supporting cell microvilli. A key problem when studying the subcellular distribution of possible VNO signal transduction molecules at the light microscope level is the clear discrimination of immunosignals derived from dendritic microvilli of the VNO neurons and surrounding supporting cell structures. In the present study we therefore looked for cytoskeletal marker proteins, that might help to distinguish at the light microscope level between the two sets of microvilli. By immunostaining we found that the VNO dendritic microvilli can be selectively labelled with antibodies to the calcium-sensitive actin filament-bundling protein villin, whereas supporting cell microvilli contain the actin filament cross-linking protein fimbrin, but not villin. Useful cytoplasmic marker molecules for cellular discrimination were cytokeratin 18 for supporting cells and beta-tubulin for dendrites of VNO neurons. A further finding was that the non-sensory epithelium of the rat VNO contains brush cells, a cell type that appears to be involved in certain aspects of chemoreception in the gut. Brush cells or other structures of the vomeronasal brush border did not contain alpha-gustducin.

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