Taste receptor cells are chemical detectors in the oral cavity. Taste cells form synapses with primary afferent neurons that convey the gustatory information to the central nervous system. Taste cells may also synapse with other taste cells within the taste buds. Furthermore, taste cells may receive efferent connections. However, the neurotransmitters at these synapses have not been identified. Glutamate, a major excitatory neurotransmitter in other sensory organs, might act at synapses in taste buds. We used a cobalt staining technique to detect Ca(2+)-permeable glutamate receptors in taste buds and thus establish whether there might be glutamatergic synapses in gustatory end organs. When 500 microm slices of foliate and vallate papillae were briefly exposed to 1 mM glutamate in the presence of CoCl(2), a subset of spindle-shaped taste cells accumulated Co(2+). Cobalt uptake showed concentration-dependency in the range from 10 microm to 1 mM glutamate. Interestingly, higher glutamate concentrations depressed cobalt uptake. This concentration-response relation for cobalt uptake suggests that synaptic glutamate receptors, not receptors for glutamate taste, were activated. Sensory axons and adjacent non-sensory epithelium were not affected by these procedures. Glutamate-stimulated cobalt uptake in taste cells was antagonized by the non-NMDA receptor antagonist CNQX. Depolarization with 50 mM K(+) and application of NMDA (300 microM) did not increase the number of stained taste cells. This pharmacological characterization of the cobalt uptake suggests that non-NMDA receptors are present in taste cells. These receptors might be autoreceptors at afferent synapses, postsynaptic receptors of a putative efferent system, or postsynaptic receptors at synapses with other taste cells.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.