Espin cytoskeletal proteins in the sensory cells of rodent taste buds

Gabriella Sekerková, David Freeman, Enrico Mugnaini, James R. Bartles*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Espins are multifunctional actin-bundling proteins that are highly enriched in the microvilli of certain chemosensory and mechanosensory cells, where they are believed to regulate the integrity and/or dimensions of the parallel-actin-bundle cytoskeletal scaffold. We have determined that, in rats and mice, affinity purified espin antibody intensely labels the lingual and palatal taste buds of the oral cavity and taste buds in the pharyngo-laryngeal region. Intense immunolabeling was observed in the apical, microvillar region of taste buds, while the level of cytoplasmic labeling in taste bud cells was considerably lower. Taste buds contain tightly packed collections of sensory cells (light, or type II plus type III) and supporting cells (dark, or type I), which can be distinguished by microscopic features and cell type-specific markers. On the basis of results obtained using an antigen-retrieval method in conjunction with double immunofluorescence for espin and sensory taste cell-specific markers, we propose that espins are expressed predominantly in the sensory cells of taste buds. In confocal images of rat circumvallate taste buds, we counted 21.5 ± 0.3 espin-positive cells/taste bud, in agreement with a previous report showing 20.7 ± 1.3 light cells/taste bud when counted at the ultrastructural level. The espin antibody labeled spindle-shaped cells with round nuclei and showed 100% colocalization with cell-specific markers recognizing all type II [inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate receptor type III (IP3R3), α-gustducin, protein-specific gene product 9.5 (PGP9.5)] and a subpopulation of type III (IP3R 3, PGP9.5) taste cells. On average, 72%, 50%, and 32% of the espin-positive taste cells were labeled with antibodies to IP3R 3, α-gustducin, and PGP9.5, respectively. Upon sectional analysis, the taste buds of rat circumvallate papillae commonly revealed a multi-tiered, espin-positive apical cytoskeletal apparatus. One espin-positive zone, a collection of ∼3 μm-long microvilli occupying the taste pore, was separated by an espin-depleted zone from a second espin-positive zone situated lower within the taste pit. This latter zone included espin-positive rod-like structures that occasionally extended basally to a depth of 10-12 μm into the cytoplasm of taste cells. We propose that the espin-positive zone in the taste pit coincides with actin bundles in association with the microvilli of type II taste cells, whereas the espin-positive microvilli in the taste pore are the single microvilli of type III taste cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)171-182
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neurocytology
Issue number3-5
StatePublished - Sep 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Anatomy
  • Cell Biology
  • Histology


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