BDNF is required for taste axon regeneration following unilateral chorda tympani nerve section

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Taste nerves readily regenerate to reinnervate denervated taste buds; however, factors required for regeneration have not yet been identified. When the chorda tympani nerve is sectioned, expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) remains high in the geniculate ganglion and lingual epithelium, despite the loss of taste buds. These observations suggest that BDNF is present in the taste system after nerve section and may support taste nerve regeneration. To test this hypothesis, we inducibly deleted Bdnf during adulthood in mice. Shortly after Bdnf gene recombination, the chorda tympani nerve was unilaterally sectioned causing a loss of both taste buds and neurons, irrespective of BDNF levels. Eight weeks after nerve section, however, regeneration was differentially affected by Bdnf deletion. In control mice, there was regeneration of the chorda tympani nerve and taste buds reappeared with innervation. In contrast, few taste buds were reinnervated in mice lacking normal Bdnf expression such that taste bud number remained low. In all genotypes, taste buds that were reinnervated were normal-sized, but non-innervated taste buds remained small and atrophic. On the side of the tongue contralateral to the nerve section, taste buds for some genotypes became larger and all taste buds remained innervated. Our findings suggest that BDNF is required for nerve regeneration following gustatory nerve section.

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