Modifications of gustatory nerve synapses onto nucleus of the solitary tract neurons induced by dietary sodium-restriction during development

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Abstract

The terminal fields of nerves carrying gustatory information to the rat brainstem show a remarkable amount of expansion in the nucleus of the solitary tract (NTS) as a result of early dietary sodium restriction. However, the extent to which these axonal changes represent corresponding changes in synapses is not known. To identify the synaptic characteristics that accompany the terminal field expansion, the greater superficial petrosal (GSP), chorda tympani (CT), and glossopharyngeal (IX) nerves were labeled in rats fed a sodium-restricted diet during pre- and postnatal development. The morphology of these nerve terminals within the NTS region where the terminal fields of all three nerves overlap was evaluated by transmission electron microscopy. Compared to data from control rats, CT axons were the most profoundly affected. The density of CT arbors and synapses quadrupled as a result of the near life-long dietary manipulation. In contrast, axon and synapse densities of GSP and IX nerves were not modified in sodium-restricted rats. Furthermore, compared to controls, CT terminals displayed more instances of contacts with postsynaptic dendritic protrusions and IX terminals synapsed more frequently with dendritic shafts. Thus, dietary sodium restriction throughout pre- and postnatal development had differential effects on the synaptic organization of the three nerves in the NTS. These anatomical changes may underlie the impact of sensory restriction during development on the functional processing of taste information and taste-related behaviors.

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