Neutrophil responses to injury or inflammation impair peripheral gustatory function

P. W. Steen, L. Shi, L. He, L. P. McCluskey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


The adult peripheral taste system is capable of extensive functional plasticity after injury. Sectioning the chorda tympani (CT), a primary sensory afferent nerve, elicits transient changes in the uninjured, contralateral population of taste receptor cells. Remarkably, the deficits are specific to the sodium transduction pathway. Normal function is quickly restored in the intact nerve, in parallel with an influx of macrophages to both the denervated and uninjured sides of the tongue. However, changing the dietary environment by restricting sodium blocks the macrophage response and prolongs functional alterations. Since the functional deficits occur before macrophages are present in the peripheral taste system, we hypothesized that neutrophils play a role in modulating neural responses in the intact CT. First, the dynamics of the neutrophil response to nerve injury were analyzed in control-fed and sodium-deficient rats. Nerve sectioning briefly increased the number of neutrophils on both the denervated and uninjured sides of the tongue. The low-sodium diet amplified and extended the bilateral neutrophil response to injury, in parallel with the persistent changes in sodium taste function. To test the impact of neutrophils on taste function, we depleted these cells prior to nerve sectioning and recorded neural responses from the intact CT. This treatment restored normal sodium responses in the uninjured nerve. Moreover, recruiting neutrophils to the tongue induced deficits in sodium taste function in both CT nerves. Neutrophils play a critical role in ongoing inflammatory responses in the oral cavity, and may induce changes in taste perception. We also suggest that balanced neutrophil and macrophage responses enable normal neural responses after neural injury.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)894-908
Number of pages15
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2010


  • Chorda tympani nerve
  • Epithelial sodium channel (ENaC)
  • Lipopolysaccharide
  • Neural degeneration
  • Neuro-immune interactions
  • Taste receptor cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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