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J Comp Neurol. 1997 Jan 20;377(3):324-40.

Organ cultures of embryonic rat tongue support tongue and gustatory papilla morphogenesis in vitro without intact sensory ganglia.

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School of Dentistry, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor 48109, USA.


Taste buds on the mammalian tongue are confined to the epithelium of three types of gustatory papillae: the fungiform, circumvallate, and foliate. The gustatory papillae are composed of an epithelium that covers a broad connective tissue core, with extensive innervation to taste bud and nongustatory epithelial locations. Although the temporal sequence of gustatory papilla development is known for several species, factors that regulate initiation, growth, and maintenance of the papillae are not understood. We tested the hypothesis that sensory innervation is required for the initial formation and early morphogenesis of fungiform papillae in a patterned array. An organ culture of the embryonic rat tongue was developed to provide an in vitro system for studying mechanisms involved in fungiform papilla morphogenesis in patterns on the anterior tongue. Tongues were dissected from embryos at 13 days of gestation (E13), a time when the tongue has not yet fully formed and gustatory papillae have not yet appeared, and at 14 days of gestation (E14), when the tongue is well formed and papillae make their initial morphological appearance. Dissected tongues were maintained at the gas/liquid interface in standard organ culture dishes, fed with DMEM/F12 plus 2% B-27 supplement and 1% fetal bovine serum. After 1, 2, 3, or 6 days in culture, tongues were processed for scanning electron or light microscopy, or immunocytochemistry. Tongues cultured from E13 or E14 underwent extensive morphogenesis and growth in vitro. Furthermore, fungiform papillae developed on these tongues on a culture day equivalent to E15 in vivo; that is, after 2 days for cultures begun at E13 and 1 day for those begun at E14. Because E15 is the characteristic time for gustatory papilla formation in the intact embryo, results demonstrate that the cultured tongues retain important temporal information related to papilla development. In addition, fungiform papillae formed in the tongue cultures in the stereotypic pattern of rows. The papillae were large structures with epithelial and mesenchymal cell integrity, and an intact epithelial basement membrane was indicated with laminin immunoreactivity. The cultures demonstrate that gustatory papilla morphogenesis can progress in the absence of an intact sensory innervation. To exclude a potential developmental role for autonomic ganglion cells that are located in the posterior rat tongue, cultures consisting of only the anterior half of E14 tongues were established. Fungiform papilla development progressed in half tongues in a manner directly comparable to whole tongue cultures. Therefore, robust, reproducible development of fungiform papillae in patterns is supported in rat tongue cultures from E13 or E14, without inclusion of intact sensory or major, posterior tongue autonomic ganglia. This is direct evidence that papillae will form and develop further in vitro without sensory ganglion support. The data also provide the first detailed account of in vitro development of the entire embryonic tongue.

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