Taste buds, the receptor organs for taste, contain 50-100 taste bud cells. Although these cells undergo continuous turnover, the structural and functional integrity of taste buds is maintained. The molecular mechanisms by which synaptic connectivity between taste buds and afferent fibers is formed and maintained remain ambiguous. In the present study, we examined the localization of N-cadherin in the taste buds of the mouse circumvallate papillae because N-cadherin, one of the classical cadherins, is important for the formation and maintenance of synapses. At the light microscopic level, N-cadherin was predominantly detected in type II cells and nerve fibers in the connective tissues in and around the vallate papillae. At the ultrastructural level, N-cadherin immunoreactivity appears along the cell membrane and in the intracellular vesicles of type II cells. N-cadherin immunoreactivity also is evident in the membranes of afferent terminals at the contact sites to N-cadherin-positive type II cells. At channel type synapses between type II cells and nerve fibers, N-cadherin is present surrounding, but not within, the presumed neurotransmitter release zone, identified by large mitochondria apposed to the taste cells. The present results suggest that N-cadherin is important for the formation or maintenance of type II cell afferent synapses in taste buds.
Keywords: cadherins; electron microscopy; fluorescent antibody technique; immunogold-silver techniques; microdissection; microscopy; synapses; taste buds.
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