The transcription factor Phox2b distinguishes between oral and non-oral sensory neurons in the geniculate ganglion

J Comp Neurol. 2017 Dec 15;525(18):3935-3950. doi: 10.1002/cne.24312. Epub 2017 Sep 15.


Many basic characteristics of gustatory neurons remain unknown, partly due to the absence of specific markers. Some neurons in the geniculate ganglion project to taste regions in the oral cavity, whereas others innervate the outer ear. We hypothesized that the transcription factor Phox2b would identify oral cavity-projecting neurons in the geniculate ganglion. To test this possibility, we characterized mice in which Phox2b-Cre mediated gene recombination labeled neurons with tdTomato. Nerve labeling revealed that all taste neurons projecting through the chorda tympani (27%) and greater superficial petrosal nerves (15%) expressed Phox2b during development, whereas non-oral somatosensory neurons (58%) in the geniculate ganglion did not. We found tdTomato-positive innervation within all taste buds. Most (57%) of the fungiform papillae had labeled innervation only in taste buds, whereas 43% of the fungiform papillae also had additional labeled innervation to the papilla epithelium. Chorda tympani nerve transection eliminated all labeled innervation to taste buds, but most of the additional innervation in the fungiform papillae remained. Some of these additional fibers also expressed tyrosine hydroxylase, suggesting a sympathetic origin. Consistent with this, both sympathetic and parasympathetic fibers innervating blood vessels and salivary glands contained tdTomato labeling. Phox2b-tdTomato labels nerve fascicles in the tongue of the developing embryo and demonstrates a similar stereotyped branching pattern DiI-labeling.

Keywords: Phox2b; RRID: AB_2314683; RRID: AB_531826; RRID: AB_632496; RRID: IMSR_JAX:007914; RRID: MMRRC_034613-UCD; geniculate ganglion; taste; taste bud; taste bud innervation.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cholera Toxin / metabolism
  • Chorda Tympani Nerve / cytology
  • Embryo, Mammalian
  • Fluorescein / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Geniculate Ganglion / cytology*
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics
  • Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism*
  • Insulin / metabolism
  • LIM-Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism
  • Luminescent Proteins / genetics
  • Luminescent Proteins / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Mouth / innervation
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / metabolism*
  • Taste / physiology
  • Taste Buds / physiology
  • Tongue / innervation
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase / metabolism


  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Insulin
  • LIM-Homeodomain Proteins
  • Luminescent Proteins
  • NBPhox protein
  • Transcription Factors
  • cholera toxin B-insulin conjugate
  • insulin gene enhancer binding protein Isl-1
  • Cholera Toxin
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase
  • Fluorescein