Epithelial overexpression of BDNF or NT4 disrupts targeting of taste neurons that innervate the anterior tongue

Dev Biol. 2001 Apr 15;232(2):508-21. doi: 10.1006/dbio.2001.0190.


Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and neurotrophin-4 (NT4) are essential for the survival of geniculate ganglion neurons, which provide the sensory afferents for taste buds of the anterior tongue and palate. To determine how these target-derived growth factors regulate gustatory development, the taste system was examined in transgenic mice that overexpress BDNF (BDNF-OE) or NT4 (NT4-OE) in basal epithelial cells of the tongue. Overexpression of BDNF or NT4 caused a 93 and 140% increase, respectively, in the number of geniculate ganglion neurons. Surprisingly, both transgenic lines had severe reduction in fungiform papillae and taste bud number, primarily in the dorsal midregion and ventral tip of the tongue. No alterations were observed in taste buds of circumvallate or incisal papillae. Fungiform papillae were initially present on tongues of newborn BDNF-OE animals, but many were small, poorly innervated, and lost postnatally. To explain the loss of nerve innervation to fungiform papillae, the facial nerve of developing animals was labeled with the lipophilic tracer DiI. In contrast to control mice, in which taste neurons innervated only fungiform papillae, taste neurons in BDNF-OE and NT4-OE mice innervated few fungiform papillae. Instead, some fibers approached but did not penetrate the epithelium and aberrant innervation to filiform papillae was observed. In addition, some papillae that formed in transgenic mice had two taste buds (instead of one) and were frequently arranged in clusters of two or three papillae. These results indicate that target-derived BDNF and NT4 are not only survival factors for geniculate ganglion neurons, but also have important roles in regulating the development and spatial patterning of fungiform papilla and targeting of taste neurons to these sensory structures.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Body Patterning / genetics
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / genetics*
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / physiology*
  • Cell Survival
  • Embryonic and Fetal Development / genetics
  • Epithelium / embryology
  • Epithelium / growth & development
  • Epithelium / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Nerve Growth Factors / genetics*
  • Nerve Growth Factors / physiology*
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Taste Buds / embryology*
  • Taste Buds / growth & development*
  • Tongue / embryology
  • Tongue / growth & development
  • Tongue / innervation


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Nerve Growth Factors
  • neurotrophin 4