Background: Anatomical tracing of neural circuits originating from specific subsets of taste receptor cells may shed light on interactions between taste cells within the taste bud and taste cell-to nerve interactions. It is unclear for example, if activation of type II cells leads to direct activation of the gustatory nerves, or whether the information is relayed through type III cells. To determine how WGA produced in T1r3-expressing taste cells is transported into gustatory neurons, transgenic mice expressing WGA-IRES-GFP driven by the T1r3 promoter were generated.
Results: Immunohistochemistry showed co-expression of WGA, GFP and endogenous T1r3 in the taste bud cells of transgenic mice: the only taste cells immunoreactive for WGA were the T1r3-expressing cells. The WGA antibody also stained intragemmal nerves. WGA, but not GFP immunoreactivity was found in the geniculate and petrosal ganglia of transgenic mice, indicating that WGA was transported across synapses. WGA immunoreactivity was also found in the trigeminal ganglion, suggesting that T1r3-expressing cells make synapses with trigeminal neurons. In the medulla, WGA was detected in the nucleus of the solitary tract but also in the nucleus ambiguus, the vestibular nucleus, the trigeminal nucleus and in the gigantocellular reticular nucleus. WGA was not detected in the parabrachial nucleus, or the gustatory cortex.
Conclusion: These results show the usefulness of genetically encoded WGA as a tracer for the first and second order neurons that innervate a subset of taste cells, but not for higher order neurons, and demonstrate that the main route of output from type II taste cells is the gustatory neuron, not the type III cells.