To investigate monoaminergic synaptic mechanisms in taste buds, we examined taste buds of mice, rats, rabbits, and mudpuppies for the presence of the neurotransmitter candidate, serotonin. Immunocytochemistry revealed serotonin-like immunostaining in cells in mammalian taste buds and Merkel- like basal cells in taste buds of mudpuppies. In untreated mudpuppies and in mammals injected with the precursor to serotonin, L-tryptophan, certain taste cells showed serotonin-like immunoreactivity, although in mammalian taste buds the immunostaining was relatively weak. After pretreating mammals with 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), the intermediate precursor between L-tryptophan and serotonin, several taste cells showed strong immunoreactivity for serotonin. These findings indicate that mammalian taste cells normally contain serotonin and that taste cells can take up 5-HTP and convert it to serotonin. Immunocytochemistry on wholemount preparations demonstrated that serotonergic cells of mudpuppies (i.e., Merkel-like basal cells) were disposed in a ring at the periphery of taste buds. Similarly, serotonergic cells in mammalian taste buds tended to be located at the periphery of taste buds. Based on the position of serotonergic cells in the taste bud and on recent physiological studies on the actions of serotonin in taste buds, we postulate that serotonin functions as a neuromodulator or neurotransmitter in vertebrate taste buds.
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