Differential expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor and neurotrophin 3 mRNA in lingual papillae and taste buds indicates roles in gustatory and somatosensory innervation

J Comp Neurol. 1996 Dec 23;376(4):587-602. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1096-9861(19961223)376:4<587::AID-CNE7>3.0.CO;2-Y.


Although many studies have demonstrated the dependency of taste bud function and/or survival on intact innervation, relatively few have dealt with the development of taste bud innervation. Using in situ hybridization histochemistry, we show that brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and neurotrophin 3 (NT3) mRNA are expressed in a specific pattern in the taste buds, tongue papillae, and lingual epithelium during development and that expression persists into adulthood. BDNF mRNA is expressed in a fraction of the taste cells of the developing and adult taste buds in rats, showing different labeling intensities among the labeled cells. NT3 and mRNA seems to be located in areas other than those where BDNF mRNA is expressed, mainly in the superior epithelial surfaces of circumvallate papillae, the outer surface epithelium of foliate papilae, the superior surface and the lateral epithelium of the fungiform papillae, and the epithelium of the filiform papillae. NT3 mRNA labeling is also observed among muscle and connective tissue of the tongue. The morphological appearance, expression of NT3 mRNA, and ramification of nerve fibers in defined epithelial structures in the posterior wall of the anterior filiform papillae suggest the existence of a mechanosensory apparatus in these papillae. Nerve growth factor and neurotrophin 4 probes did not give rise to selective labeling in tongue, although their presence cannot be totally excluded. Based on present and prior studies, we suggest that BDNF is needed during initiation and for maintenance of gustatory innervation of taste buds and gustatory papillae and that NT3 is mainly needed for somatosensory innervation of the tongue.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / metabolism*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Nerve Growth Factors / metabolism*
  • Neurotrophin 3
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology*
  • Taste Buds / metabolism
  • Taste Buds / physiology*


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Nerve Growth Factors
  • Neurotrophin 3
  • RNA, Messenger