Vagal sensory neurons are dependent on neurotrophins for survival during development. Here, the contribution of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) to survival and other aspects of gastric vagal afferent development was investigated. Post-mortem anterograde tracing with 1,1'-dioctadecyl-3,3,3',3'-tetramethylindocarbo-cyanine perchlorate (DiI) was used to label selectively vagal projections to the stomach on postnatal days (P) 0, 3, 4, and 6 in wild types and heterozygous or homozygous BDNF mutants. Sampling sites distributed throughout the ventral stomach wall were scanned with a confocal microscope, and vagal axon bundles, single axons, putative mechanoreceptor precursors (intraganglionic laminar endings, IGLEs; intramuscular arrays, IMAs), and efferent terminals were quantified. Also, myenteric neurons, which are innervated by IGLEs, were stained with cuprolinic blue and counted. Quantitative comparisons across wild-type stomach compartments demonstrated that the adult distribution of IMAs was not present at P0 but began to form by P3-6. Among all the quantified elements, at P0, only IGLE density was significantly different in homozygous mutants compared with wild types, exhibiting a 50% reduction. Also, antrum innervation appeared disorganized, and some putative IMA precursors had truncated telodendria. At P3-6, the effect on IGLEs had recovered, the disorganization of antrum innervation had partially recovered, and some IMA telodendria were still truncated. The present results suggest that gastric IGLEs are among the vagal sensory neurons dependent on BDNF for survival or axon guidance. Alternatively, BDNF deficiency may delay gastric IGLE development. Also, BDNF may contribute to IMA differentiation and patterning of antral vagal innervation.
(c) 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.