The first interaction of taste stimuli with lingual chemoreceptors occurs on the apical membrane of taste cells, since only that portion is exposed to the oral cavity. To gain better insight into this interaction, we examined the pore region of taste buds in Necturus maculosus with scanning electron microscopy (SEM), transmission electron microscopy, and high-voltage electron microscopy. SEM of the pore reveals a patchwork distribution of three morphologically distinct types of apical specializations: long and branched (LB) microvilli, short and unbranched (SU) microvilli, and bundles of stereocilia. As demonstrated in thin and thick sections, LB microvilli are specializations of dark cells, SU microvilli are the apical specializations of light cells, and stereocilia arise from a cell that has the cytoplasmic markers characteristic of light cells. When left in place, the pore mucus completely covers the SU microvilli and partially covers the LB microvilli. However, stereocilia project above the surface and thus are highly exposed to taste stimuli in the oral cavity. These three morphologically distinct types of apical specializations may reveal functional differences among taste cells. The initial interaction between chemical stimulus and taste cell, and possibly chemoreceptor specificity itself, may be influenced by the morphology of the apical ending.
- taste buds
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