Somatosensory innervation of the oral mucosa of adult and aging mice
Oral mechanoreception is implicated in fundamental functions including speech, food intake and swallowing; yet, the neuroanatomical substrates that encode mechanical stimuli are not well understood. Tactile perception is initiated by intricate mechanosensitive machinery involving dedicated cells and neurons. This signal transduction setup is coupled with the topology and mechanical properties of surrounding epithelium, thereby providing a sensitive and accurate system to detect stress fluctuations from the external environment. We mapped the distribution of anatomically distinct neuronal endings in mouse oral cavity using transgenic reporters, molecular markers and quantitative histomorphometry. We found that the tongue is equipped with an array of putative mechanoreceptors that express the principal mechanosensory channel Piezo2, including end bulbs of Krause innervating individual filiform papillae and a novel class of neuronal fibers innervating the epithelium surrounding taste buds. The hard palate and gums are densely populated with three classes of sensory afferents organized in discrete patterns including Merkel cell-neurite complexes, Meissner’s corpuscles and glomerular corpuscles. In aged mice, we find that palatal Merkel cells reduce in number at key time-points that correlate with impaired oral abilities, such as swallowing and mastication. Collectively, this work identifies the mechanosensory architecture of oral tissues involved in feeding.
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- Scientific Reports