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J Comp Neurol. 1996 Apr 1;367(2):205-21.

Structure and function of gustatory neurons in the nucleus of the solitary tract: II. Relationships between neuronal morphology and physiology.

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Laboratory of Gastrointestinal, Gustatory and Somatic Sensation, Henry Ford Health Sciences Center, Detroit, Michigan 48202, USA.


This study employed intracellular recording and labeling techniques to examine potential relationships between the physiology and morphology of brainstem gustatory neurons. When we considered the neuronal response to the four "prototypic" tastants, we were able to demonstrate a positive correlation between breadth of responsiveness and the number of dendritic branch points. An analysis of the response to eight tastants also revealed an association between dendritic spine density and the breadth of responsiveness, with more narrowly tuned neurons exhibiting more spines. Interestingly, a neuron's "best response" was a relatively poor predictor of neuronal morphology. When we focused on those neurons that responded to only one tastant, however, a number of potentially important relationships became apparent. We found that the cells that only responded to quinine were smaller than the neurons that only responded to NaCl, HCl, or sucrose. The HCl-only neurons, however, were more widespread in the rostrocaudal dimension that the neurons that only responded to NaCl. A number of additional structure-function relationships were identified when we examined the neuronal response to selected tastants. We found that neurons that responded to sucrose but not quinine, as well as neurons that responded to quinine but not sucrose, were more widespread in the mediolateral dimension than neurons that responded to both sucrose and quinine. We also discovered that the neurons that responded to NaCl, but not to NH4Cl or KCl, were larger than neurons that responded to all three salts. We believe that these results support the hypothesis that there are relationships between the structure and function of gustatory neurons in the nucleus of the solitary tract, with the data highlighting the importance of three themes: 1) the relationship between dendritic specializations and tuning, 2) the relationship between dendritic arbor orientation and response properties, and 3) the potential importance of stimulus-specific neurons.

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