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Papers of the Week

Papers: 12 Jan 2019 - 18 Jan 2019

Animal Studies

2019 Feb 27

J Neurosci



Mouse parabrachial neurons signal a relationship between bitter taste and nociceptive stimuli.



Taste and somatosensation both mediate protective behaviors. Bitter taste guides avoidance of ingestion of toxins while pain sensations, such as noxious heat, signal adverse conditions to ward off harm. Although brain pathways for taste and somatosensation are typically studied independently, prior data suggest they intersect, potentially reflecting their common protective role. To investigate this, we applied electrophysiologic and optogenetic techniques in anesthetized mice of both sexes to evaluate relationships between oral somatosensory and taste activity in the parabrachial nucleus (PbN), implicated for roles in gustation and pain. Spikes were recorded from taste-active PbN neurons tested with oral delivery of thermal and chemesthetic stimuli, including agonists of nocisensitive transient receptor potential (TRP) ion channels on somatosensory fibers. Gustatory neurons were also tested to follow electrical pulse stimulation of an oral somatosensory region of the spinal trigeminal subnucleus caudalis (Vc), which projects to the PbN. Neurons composed classic taste groups, including sodium, electrolyte, appetitive, or bitter cells. Across groups, most neurons spiked to Vc pulse stimulation, implying trigeminal projections reach PbN gustatory neurons. Among such cells, a subpopulation responsive to the bitter taste stimuli quinine and cycloheximide, and aversive concentrations of sodium, co-fired to agonists of nocisensitive TRP channels, including capsaicin, mustard oil, and noxious heat. Such neurons populated the lateral PbN. Further, nociceptive activity in PbN bitter taste neurons was suppressed during optogenetic-assisted inhibition of the Vc, implying convergent trigeminal input contributed to such activity. Our results reveal a novel role for PbN gustatory cells in cross-system signaling related to protection.Prior data suggest gustatory and trigeminal neural pathways intersect and overlap in the parabrachial area. However, no study has directly examined such overlap and why it may exist. Here we found that parabrachial gustatory neurons can receive afferent projections from trigeminal nuclei and fire to oral nociceptive stimuli that excite somatosensory receptors and fibers. Activation to aversive nociceptive stimuli in gustatory cells was associated with responding to behaviorally-avoided bitter tastants. We were further able to show that silencing trigeminal projections inhibited nociceptive activity in parabrachial bitter taste neurons. Our results imply that in the parabrachial area, there is predictable overlap between taste and somatosensory processing related to protective coding and that classically-defined taste neurons contribute to this process.