Neuron/target plasticity in the peripheral gustatory system

J Comp Neurol. 2004 Apr 26;472(2):183-92. doi: 10.1002/cne.11017.


Taste bud volume on the anterior tongue in adult rats is matched by an appropriate number of innervating geniculate ganglion cells. The larger the taste bud, the more geniculate ganglion cells that innervate it. To determine if such a match is perturbed in the regenerated gustatory system under different dietary conditions, taste bud volumes and numbers of innervating neurons were quantified in adult rats after unilateral axotomy of the chorda tympani nerve and/or maintenance on a sodium-restricted diet. The relationship between taste bud size and innervation was eliminated in rats merely fed a sodium-restricted diet; individual taste bud volumes were smaller than predicted by the corresponding number of innervating neurons. Surprisingly, the relationship was disrupted in a similar way on the intact side of the tongue in unilaterally sectioned rats, with no diet-related differences. The mismatch in these groups was due to a decrease in average taste bud volumes and not to a change in numbers of innervating ganglion cells. In contrast, individual taste bud volumes were larger than predicted by the corresponding number of innervating neurons on the regenerated side of the tongue; again, with no diet-related differences. However, the primary variable responsible for disrupting the function on the regenerated side was an approximate 20% decrease in geniculate ganglion cells available to innervate taste buds. Therefore, the neuron/target match in the peripheral gustatory system is susceptible to surgical and/or dietary manipulations that act through multiple mechanisms. This system is ideally suited to model sensory plasticity in adults.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chorda Tympani Nerve / drug effects
  • Chorda Tympani Nerve / growth & development
  • Chorda Tympani Nerve / injuries
  • Diet, Sodium-Restricted / methods
  • Female
  • Geniculate Ganglion / drug effects
  • Geniculate Ganglion / growth & development*
  • Male
  • Neuronal Plasticity / drug effects
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Sodium Chloride, Dietary / pharmacology
  • Taste / drug effects
  • Taste / physiology*
  • Taste Buds / drug effects
  • Taste Buds / growth & development*


  • Sodium Chloride, Dietary