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Abstract

Taste buds of rabbit circumvallate papillae were studied with the electron microscope at intervals from six hours to 11 weeks after section of the glossopharyngeal nerve distal to the petrosal ganglion. Nerve endings were first affected, showing degeneration as early as 12 hours and disappearing by 48 hours. Rapid loss of cells and of all buds by ten days followed. Numerous inclusion bodies within type I and type II cells were interpreted as autophagic activity in type II cells and both phagocytic and autophagic activity in type I cells. Type III cells were lost primarily by pyknosis, and phagocytized by type I cells. No clear evidence of dedifferentiation, or extrusion of dead cells, was observed.

Regenerated nerves appeared beneath the epithelium at 21 days but new buds first appeared at 25 days, after nerves had penetrated the basement membrane. Intimate contact of nerves with epithelial cells appears to be a precondition for taste bud renewal. Early appearance of cells resembling basal cells (type IV) followed by relatively simultaneous appearance of type I, II and III suggest independent origins for these three types. The data support a humoral hypothesis of trophic action but do not rule out a role for impulse transmission.