The human craniofacial muscles innervated by the facial nerve typically lack muscle spindles. However these muscles have proprioception that participates in the coordination of facial movements. A functional substitution of facial proprioceptors by cutaneous mechanoreceptors has been proposed but at present this alternative has not been demonstrated. Here we have investigated whether other kinds of sensory structures are present in two human facial muscles (zygomatic major and buccal). Human checks were removed from Spanish cadavers, and processed for immunohistochemical detection of nerve fibers (neurofilament proteins and S100 protein) and two putative mechanoproteins (acid-sensing ion channel 2 and transient receptor potential vanilloid 4) associated with mechanosensing. Nerves of different calibers were found in the connective septa and within the muscle itself. In all the muscles analysed, capsular corpuscle-like structures resembling elongated or round Ruffini-like corpuscles were observed. Moreover the axon profiles within these structures displayed immunoreactivity for both putative mechanoproteins. The present results demonstrate the presence of sensory structures in facial muscles that can substitute for typical muscle spindles as the source of facial proprioception.
Keywords: Facial muscles; Mechanoproteins; Proprioceptors; Sensory corpuscle-like structures.
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