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J Gen Physiol. 1993 Jun;101(6):843-66.

Selectivity of lingual nerve fibers to chemical stimuli.

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Department of Neurobiology, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina 27710.


The cell bodies of the lingual branch of the trigeminal nerve were localized in the trigeminal ganglion using extracellular recordings together with horseradish peroxidase labeling from the tongue. Individual lingual nerve fibers were characterized with regard to their conduction velocities, receptive fields, and response to thermal, mechanical, and chemical stimuli. Fibers were classified as C, A delta, A beta, cold, and warm. The chemical stimuli included NaCl, KCl, NH4Cl, CaCl2, menthol, nicotine, hexanol, and capsaicin. With increasing salt concentration the latency of the response decreased and the activity increased. The responses elicited by salts (to 2.5 M), but not nonpolar stimuli such as menthol, were reversibly inhibited by 3.5 mM of the tight junction blocker, LaCl3. These data suggest that salts diffuse into stratified squamous epithelia through tight junctions in the stratum corneum and stratum granulosum, whereupon they enter the extracellular space. 11 C fibers were identified and 5 were characterized as polymodal nociceptors. All of the C fibers were activated by one or more of the salts NaCl, KCl, or NH4Cl. Three C fibers were activated by nicotine (1 mM), but none were affected by CaCl2 (1 M), menthol (1 mM), or hexanol (50 mM). However, not all C fibers or even the subpopulation of polymodals were activated by the same salts or by nicotine. Thus, it appears that C fibers display differential responsiveness to chemical stimuli. A delta fibers also showed differential sensitivity to chemicals. Of the 35 characterized A delta mechanoreceptors, 8 responded to NaCl, 9 to KCl, 9 to NH4Cl, 0 to CaCl2, menthol, or hexanol, and 2 to nicotine. 8 of 9 of the cold fibers (characterized as A delta's) responded to menthol, none responded to nicotine, 8 of 16 were inhibited by hexanol, 9 of 19 responded to 2.5 M NH4Cl, 5 of 19 responded to 2.5 M KCl, and 1 of 19 responded to 2.5 M NaCl. In summary, lingual nerve fibers exhibit responsiveness to chemicals introduced onto the tongue. The differential responses of these fibers are potentially capable of transmitting information regarding the quality and quantity of chemical stimuli from the tongue to the central nervous system.

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