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Variable branching characteristics of peripheral taste neurons indicates differential convergence.

By Tao Huang, Lisa C. Ohman, Anna V. Clements, Zachary D. Whiddon, Robin F Krimm

Posted 22 Aug 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.08.20.260059

Taste neurons are functionally and molecularly diverse, but their morphological diversity remains completely unexplored. Using sparse cell genetic labeling, we provide the first reconstructions of peripheral taste neurons. The branching characteristics across 96 taste neurons show surprising diversity in their complexities. Individual neurons had 1 to 17 separate terminal arbors entering between 1 to 7 taste buds, 18 of these neurons also innervated non-taste epithelia. Axon branching characteristics are similar in gustatory neurons from male and female mice. Cluster analysis separated the neurons into four groups according to branch complexity. The primary difference between clusters was the amount of the nerve fiber within the taste bud available to contact taste-transducing cells. Consistently, we found that the maximum number of taste-transducing cells capable of providing convergent input onto individual gustatory neurons varied with a range of 1-22 taste-transducing cells. Differences in branching characteristics across neurons indicate that some neurons likely receive input from a larger number of taste-transducing cells than other neurons (differential convergence). By dividing neurons into two groups based on the type of taste-transducing cell most contacted, we found that neurons contacting primarily sour transducing cells were more heavily branched than those contacting primarily sweet/bitter transducing taste cells. This suggests that neuron morphologies may differ across functional taste quality. However, the considerable remaining variability within each group also suggests differential convergence within each functional taste quality. Each possibility has functional implications for the system.

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