Brain-derived neurotrophic factor attracts geniculate ganglion neurites during embryonic targeting

Dev Neurosci. 2010 Aug;32(3):184-96. doi: 10.1159/000313902. Epub 2010 Jul 20.


Geniculate axons are initially guided to discrete epithelial placodes in the lingual and palatal epithelium that subsequently differentiate into taste buds. In vivo approaches show that brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) mRNA is concentrated in these placodes, that BDNF is necessary for targeting taste afferents to these placodes, and that BDNF misexpression disrupts guidance. We used an in vitro approach to determine whether BDNF may act directly on geniculate axons as a trophic factor and as an attractant, and whether there is a critical period for responsiveness to BDNF. We show that BDNF promotes neurite outgrowth from geniculate ganglion explants dissected from embryonic day (E) 15, E18, infant, and adult rats cultured in collagen gels, and that there is a concentration optimum for neurite extension. Gradients of BDNF derived from slow-release beads caused the greatest bias in neurite outgrowth at E15, when axons approach the immature gustatory papillae. Further, neurites advanced faster toward the BDNF bead than away from it, even if the average amount of neurotrophic factor encountered was the same. We also found that neurites that contact BDNF beads did not advance beyond them. At E18, when axons would be penetrating pregustatory epithelium in vivo, BDNF continued to exert a tropic effect on geniculate neurites. However, at postnatal and adult stages, the influence of BDNF was predominantly trophic. Our data support a role for BDNF acting as an attractant for geniculate axons during a critical period that encompasses initial targeting but not at later stages.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / genetics
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / pharmacology*
  • Chemotactic Factors / genetics
  • Chemotactic Factors / pharmacology*
  • Epithelium / embryology
  • Epithelium / growth & development
  • Geniculate Ganglion* / cytology
  • Geniculate Ganglion* / drug effects
  • Geniculate Ganglion* / physiology
  • Neurites* / drug effects
  • Neurites* / metabolism
  • Neurites* / ultrastructure
  • Rats
  • Taste Buds / cytology
  • Taste Buds / embryology
  • Taste Buds / growth & development
  • Tissue Culture Techniques
  • Tongue / cytology
  • Tongue / embryology
  • Tongue / growth & development
  • Tongue / innervation


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Chemotactic Factors