Degenerative Changes in the Taste System

Project: Research project

Project Details


DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): The taste system is capable of remarkable plasticity following denervation of taste receptor cells. Environmental influences at the time of nerve section play an important role in this functional plasticity. Adult rats placed on a sodium-restricted diet soon after sectioning of the chorda tympani (CT) nerve, which innervates taste receptor cells, exhibit long-lasting deficits in neurophysiological taste responses. Surprisingly, intact taste receptors also demonstrate altered taste responses within days after contralateral denervation. In fact, up-regulation of immune activity in sodium-deficient rats leads to recovery of normal taste responses in the intact CT nerve. This novel interaction between sensory and immune function was unexpected, and little is currently known about the role of the immune system in the normal or degenerating taste system. The site of changes in taste function after denervation is the amiloride-sensitive sodium channel, or ENaC, on taste receptor cells. Our long-term goal is to determine the mechanisms by which the immune system modulates ENaC function. In the current proposal, immune cells that potentially affect taste function during degeneration must first be identified. Leukocyte subtypes will be identified, counted, and their spatial relationship to denervated and intact taste buds mapped over time post-sectioning. The expression of adhesion molecules an essential signal for leukocyte entry to tissue, will be examined after denervation of taste receptor cells. Leukocyte proliferation and activation initiated by unilateral denervation of taste receptor cells will also be investigated. We hypothesize that each of these measures of immune activity is up-regulated after CT sectioning in control-fed but not sodium-restricted rats. Indeed, there is evidence that dietary sodium restriction is immunosuppressive. Finally, specific populations of leukocytes will be depleted, and the functional consequences for the degenerating taste system assessed neurophysiologically. ENaC expression will also be examined after leukocyte depletion, to determine if leukocyte regulation of the channel is a mechanism for altered sodium transduction in taste receptor cells. These experiments will provide powerful evidence for the influence of specific leukocyte populations on taste function in vivo. Proposed studies are also important for our understanding of functional interactions between neurons, sensory receptor cells, and leukocytes, and of neural plasticity after injury.
Effective start/end date12/1/021/31/15


  • National Institutes of Health: $255,949.00
  • National Institutes of Health: $269,420.00
  • National Institutes of Health: $286,000.00
  • National Institutes of Health: $271,179.00
  • National Institutes of Health: $278,327.00
  • National Institutes of Health: $286,000.00
  • National Institutes of Health: $279,279.00
  • National Institutes of Health: $286,000.00
  • National Institutes of Health: $269,420.00
  • National Institutes of Health: $281,138.00


  • Medicine(all)
  • Neuroscience(all)

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