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Keywords:

  • gustation;
  • primary afferent innervation;
  • convergence;
  • brainstem

ABSTRACT

Physiological studies suggest convergence of chorda tympani and glossopharyngeal afferent axons onto single neurons of the rostral nucleus of the solitary tract (rNTS), but anatomical evidence has been elusive. The current study uses high-magnification confocal microscopy to identify putative synaptic contacts from afferent fibers of the two nerves onto individual projection neurons. Imaged tissue is revisualized with electron microscopy, confirming that overlapping fluorescent signals in confocal z-stacks accurately identify appositions between labeled terminal and dendrite pairs. Monte Carlo modeling reveals that the probability of overlapping fluorophores is stochastically unrelated to the density of afferent label, suggesting that convergent innervation in the rNTS is selective rather than opportunistic. Putative synaptic contacts from each nerve are often compartmentalized onto dendrite segments of convergently innervated neurons. These results have important implications for orosensory processing in the rNTS, and the techniques presented here have applications in investigations of neural microcircuitry with an emphasis on innervation patterning. J. Comp. Neurol. 521: 2907–2926, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.