Taste buds consist of approximately 100 taste cells, including three morphological types of short receptor cells which synapse on the peripheral gustatory nerves. Some of the receptor cells produce neural cell adhesion molecule (NCAM), which may play a role in formation of specific connections in this system. Antibodies directed against different forms of NCAM were utilized in an attempt to define not only the distribution, but also the type of NCAM within taste buds.
Within each taste bud approximately 10% of the taste cells exhibit abundant immunoreactivity for 180 kD (ld) or 140 kD (sd) forms of NCAM (i.e., those with an intracellular domain) along virtually the entire surface of the cell. Ultrastructural analysis reveals that these abundantly immunoreactive taste cells are of the intermediate morphological type, although not all of the intermediate taste cells within any bud are immunoreactive. In addition, the ultrastructural studies show that punctate (ld/sd) NCAM-immunoreactivity occurs on the membranes of taste cells and nerve fibers throughout each taste bud. The embryonic form of NCAM (E-NCAM), rich in polysialic acid residues, is present only in association with nerve fibers and other unidentified elongate, thin profiles of a few taste buds.
The nerve plexus beneath the gustatory epithelium is also rich in NCAM-immunoreactivity. These fibers occasionally reveal immunoreactivity indicative of only the 120 kD (ssd) form of NCAM, typical of glial cells. © 1993 Wiley-Liss, Inc.