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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2003 Jul 22;100(15):8981-6. Epub 2003 Jul 11.

Solitary chemoreceptor cells in the nasal cavity serve as sentinels of respiration.

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Department of Cellular and Structural Biology, Rocky Mountain Taste and Smell Center, Neuroscience Program, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver, CO 80262, USA.


Inhalation of irritating substances leads to activation of the trigeminal nerve, triggering protective reflexes that include apnea or sneezing. Receptors for trigeminal irritants are generally assumed to be located exclusively on free nerve endings within the nasal epithelium, requiring that trigeminal irritants diffuse through the junctional barrier at the epithelial surface to activate receptors. We find, in both rats and mice, an extensive population of chemosensory cells that reach the surface of the nasal epithelium and form synaptic contacts with trigeminal afferent nerve fibers. These chemosensory cells express T2R "bitter-taste" receptors and alpha-gustducin, a G protein involved in chemosensory transduction. Functional studies indicate that bitter substances applied to the nasal epithelium activate the trigeminal nerve and evoke changes in respiratory rate. By extending to the surface of the nasal epithelium, these chemosensory cells serve to expand the repertoire of compounds that can activate trigeminal protective reflexes. The trigeminal chemoreceptor cells are likely to be remnants of the phylogenetically ancient population of solitary chemoreceptor cells found in the epithelium of all anamniote aquatic vertebrates.

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