Alterations in size, number, and morphology of gustatory papillae and taste buds in BDNF null mutant mice demonstrate neural dependence of developing taste organs

J Comp Neurol. 1999 Jun 21;409(1):13-24.


Sensory ganglia that innervate taste buds and gustatory papillae (geniculate and petrosal) are reduced in volume by about 40% in mice with a targeted deletion of the gene for brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). In contrast, the trigeminal ganglion, which innervates papillae but not taste buds on the anterior tongue, is reduced by only about 18%. These specific alterations in ganglia that innervate taste organs make possible a test for roles of lingual innervation in the development of appropriate number, morphology, and spatial pattern of fungiform and circumvallate papillae and associated taste buds. We studied tongues of BDNF null mutant and wild-type littermates and made quantitative analyses of all fungiform papillae on the anterior tongue, the single circumvallate papilla on the posterior tongue, and all taste buds in both papilla types. Fungiform papillae and taste buds were reduced in number by about 60% and were substantially smaller in diameter in mutant mice 15-25 days postnatal. Remaining fungiform papillae were selectively concentrated in the tongue tip region. The circumvallate papilla was reduced in diameter and length by about 40%, and papilla morphology was disrupted. Taste bud number in the circumvallate was reduced by about 70% in mutant tongues, and the remaining taste buds were smaller than those on wild-type tongues. Our results demonstrate a selective dependence of taste organs on a full complement of appropriate innervation for normal growth and morphogenesis. Effects on papillae are not random but are more pronounced in specific lingual regions. Although the geniculate and petrosal ganglia sustain at least half of their normal complement of cell number in BDNF -/- mice, remaining ganglion cells do not substitute for lost neurons to rescue taste organs at control numbers. Whereas gustatory ganglia and the taste papillae initially form independently, our results suggest interdependence in later development because ganglia derive BDNF support from target organs and papillae require sensory innervation for morphogenesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / genetics*
  • Head / anatomy & histology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout / anatomy & histology
  • Mice, Knockout / genetics*
  • Mice, Knockout / growth & development*
  • Nervous System Physiological Phenomena
  • Taste Buds / growth & development*
  • Tongue / anatomy & histology
  • Tongue / growth & development*
  • Tongue / innervation*


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor