The dependence of taste buds on innervation has been used as a model to understand nerve/target interactions. Loss of innervation results in a loss of the normal morphological appearance of taste buds, while restoration of innervation results in a recovery of taste bud morphology and function. The adult regenerating gustatory system is especially susceptible to environmental manipulations. In addition to injury-induced effects related to the peripheral portion of the chorda tympani nerve, there are also extreme morphological changes that involve the central portion of the sectioned nerve. Collectively, these findings show that the adult peripheral and central gustatory system is especially plastic at adulthood. Coordinated studies will focus on the injury-induced plasticity in gustatory neurons at their peripheral and central targets. To begin addressing candidate mechanisms that may underlie these events, a key focus of proposed studies is to examine the role of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) on maintaining the morphological and functional characteristics of gustatory neurons at adulthood, and on degenerative/regenerative processes that are attendant to sectioning the chorda tympani nerve (CTX). Combined anatomical, neurophysiological, molecular genetic, and cellular/molecular techniques in experiments using rats and mice sustaining unilateral CTX will permit us to: 1) determine the CTX-induced functional plasticity in the NST by recording central taste responses while stimulating individual, distinct taste receptor populations;2) determine how maintenance of the peripheral and central gustatory system is altered when BDNF is removed from lingual epithelia at adulthood, and how this removal affects CTX-induced degeneration and regeneration of the system, and 3) determine how maintenance and CTX-induced degeneration and regeneration of the peripheral and central gustatory system is affected when BDNF is removed from most tissues at adulthood, including lingual epithelia, the geniculate ganglion, and the NST. Findings from these studies will address the broader topics of sensory coding, the role of neural activity in maintenance of sensory function, and the temporal stability and accuracy of peripheral innervation under normal circumstances and in response to nerve damage. Results will also enable a clearer understanding of the neurobiological sequelae of human taste nerve damage sustained pathologically, or during middle ear or oral surgery.

Public Health Relevance

Project Narrative: The sense of taste plays a key role in a number of human conditions that include obesity, diabetes, anorexia, hypertension, and coronary artery disease. As such, the gustatory system plays an important role in human health. The goal of this research is to examine how the structure and function of the gustatory system is altered following cutting a taste nerve in animal models, and reflect consequences in humans attendant to pathology, middle ear surgery, or oral surgery.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
Research Project (R01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-IFCN-H (04))
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Sullivan, Susan L
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University of Virginia
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Sun, Chengsan; Krimm, Robin; Hill, David L (2018) Maintenance of Mouse Gustatory Terminal Field Organization is Dependent on BDNF at Adulthood. J Neurosci :
Skyberg, Rolf; Sun, Chengsan; Hill, David L (2017) Maintenance of Mouse Gustatory Terminal Field Organization Is Disrupted following Selective Removal of Peripheral Sodium Salt Taste Activity at Adulthood. J Neurosci 37:7619-7630
Meng, Lingbin; Huang, Tao; Sun, Chengsan et al. (2017) BDNF is required for taste axon regeneration following unilateral chorda tympani nerve section. Exp Neurol 293:27-42
Meng, Lingbin; Ohman-Gault, Lisa; Ma, Liqun et al. (2015) Taste Bud-Derived BDNF Is Required to Maintain Normal Amounts of Innervation to Adult Taste Buds. eNeuro 2:
Sun, Chengsan; Dayal, Arjun; Hill, David L (2015) Expanded terminal fields of gustatory nerves accompany embryonic BDNF overexpression in mouse oral epithelia. J Neurosci 35:409-21
Reddaway, Rebecca B; Davidow, Andrew W; Deal, Sarah L et al. (2012) Impact of chorda tympani nerve injury on cell survival, axon maintenance, and morphology of the chorda tympani nerve terminal field in the nucleus of the solitary tract. J Comp Neurol 520:2395-413
Corson, Sara L; Hill, David L (2011) Chorda tympani nerve terminal field maturation and maintenance is severely altered following changes to gustatory nerve input to the nucleus of the solitary tract. J Neurosci 31:7591-603
Guagliardo, Nick A; West, Katie Nicole; McCluskey, Lynnette P et al. (2009) Attenuation of peripheral salt taste responses and local immune function contralateral to gustatory nerve injury: effects of aldosterone. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 297:R1103-10
May, Olivia L; Erisir, Alev; Hill, David L (2007) Ultrastructure of primary afferent terminals and synapses in the rat nucleus of the solitary tract: comparison among the greater superficial petrosal, chorda tympani, and glossopharyngeal nerves. J Comp Neurol 502:1066-78
Guagliardo, Nick A; Hill, David L (2007) Fungiform taste bud degeneration in C57BL/6J mice following chorda-lingual nerve transection. J Comp Neurol 504:206-16