A combination of anatomical, histological and physiological data from wild-type and null-mutated mice have established crucial roles for BDNF and NT3 in gustatory and somatosensory innervation of the tongue, and indeed for proper development of the papillary surface of the tongue. BDNF is expressed in taste buds, NT3 in many surrounding epithelial structures. Absence of BDNF in mice leads to severely malformed taste bud-bearing papillae and severe reduction of taste buds, a loss of proper innervation of remaining taste buds and a loss of taste discrimination although not of the suckling reflex per se. In contrast, absence of NT3 leads to a massive loss of somatosensory innervation of lingual structures. These findings demonstrate distinct roles for BDNF and NT3 in the establishment of the complex innervation apparatus of the tongue with non-overlapping roles for the lingual gustatory and somatosensory systems. The distinction between different sensory modalities, being dependent on either BDNF or NT3 may also have clinical implications.

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