Taste buds are collections of taste-transducing cells specialized to detect subsets of chemical stimuli in the oral cavity. These transducing cells communicate with nerve fibers that carry this information to the brain. Because taste-transducing cells continuously die and are replaced throughout adulthood, the taste-bud environment is both complex and dynamic, requiring detailed analyses of its cell types, their locations, and any physical relationships between them. Detailed analyses have been limited by tongue-tissue heterogeneity and density that have significantly reduced antibody permeability. These obstacles require sectioning protocols that result in splitting taste buds across sections so that measurements are only approximated, and cell relationships are lost. To overcome these challenges, the methods described herein involve collecting, imaging, and analyzing whole taste buds and individual terminal arbors from three taste regions: fungiform papillae, circumvallate papillae, and the palate. Collecting whole taste buds reduces bias and technical variability and can be used to report absolute numbers for features including taste-bud volume, total taste-bud innervation, transducing-cell counts, and the morphology of individual terminal arbors. To demonstrate the advantages of this method, this paper provides comparisons of taste bud and innervation volumes between fungiform and circumvallate taste buds using a general taste-bud marker and a label for all taste fibers. A workflow for the use of sparse-cell genetic labeling of taste neurons (with labeled subsets of taste-transducing cells) is also provided. This workflow analyzes the structures of individual taste-nerve arbors, cell type numbers, and the physical relationships between cells using image analysis software. Together, these workflows provide a novel approach for tissue preparation and analysis of both whole taste buds and the complete morphology of their innervating arbors.
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