Gustatory deafferentation of the anterior tongue by bilateral section of the chorda tympani nerve, which removes only 15% of the total taste buds in the rat, severely impaired the rat's ability to discriminate NaCl from KCl. The discrimination deficit was selective. Denervated rats were able to discriminate sucrose from quinine. Despite eliminating four times as many taste buds by bilateral section of the glossopharyngeal nerve, posterior lingual deafferentation had no effect on NaCl vs. KCl discrimination performance. Collectively, these data suggest that afferents in the chorda tympani nerve provide the highest degree of disparity between the peripheral signals representing NaCl and KCl. Electrophysiological findings of others implicate the sodium-specific afferents that appear to exclusively exist in the chorda tympani nerve as the critical elements subserving the NaCl vs. KCl discrimination.