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Keywords:

  • chemical senses;
  • chemoreception;
  • gustatory organs;
  • epitheliomesenchymal interactions;
  • frog

Abstract

Type III cells of the taste organs are widely considered to be chemoreceptors. The present study was performed on the frog taste disk and describes an axon-like process in type III cells, which often contains a bundle of densely-packed parallel microfilaments. These processes pass through the basal membrane of the gustatory epithelium, running into the lamina propria (transbasal membrane processes, tBMPs). In their intraepithelial tract, tBMPs contain dense-cored vesicles revealing their origin from type III cells. Type III cells showing both classic nonrigid processes (with vesicles and nerve contacts) and tBMPs are present. The connective tract of a tBMP usually contains dense-cored vesicles only in its proximal portion. In some cases, the connective tract of tBMPs is almost perpendicular to the basal lamina. In other cases, it runs parallel to and below the basal lamina. Some tBMPs contact nerve fibers running in the subepithelial connective tissue; the contact area is rather wide but evident synapse-like junctions were never detected. Contacts between tBMPs and nerve fibers innervating basal cells are also found. In conclusion, the data demonstrate the existence of epithelial cells resembling primitive neurons that display an apical dendrite and axon-like basal processes. Until now, it was not considered possible that epithelial receptor cells extend processes out of the epithelium. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.