The role of amiloride-sensitive Na+ channels (ASSCs) in the transduction of salty taste stimuli in rat fungiform taste buds has been well established. Evidence for the involvement of ASSCs in salt transduction in circumvallate and foliate taste buds is, at best, contradictory. In an attempt to resolve this apparent controversy, we have begun to look for functional ASSCs in taste buds isolated from fungiform, foliate, and circumvallate papillae of male Sprague-Dawley rats. By use of a combination of whole-cell and nystatin-perforated patch-clamp recording, cells within the taste bud that exhibited voltage-dependent currents, reflective of taste receptor cells (TRCs), were subsequently tested for amiloride sensitivity. TRCs were held at -70 mV, and steady-state current and input resistance were monitored during superfusion of Na(+)-free saline and salines containing amiloride (0.1 microM to 1 mM). Greater than 90% of all TRCs from each of the papillae responded to Na+ replacement with a decrease in current and an increase in input resistance, reflective of a reduction in electrogenic Na+ movement into the cell. ASSCs were found in two thirds of fungiform and in one third of foliate TRCs, whereas none of the circumvallate TRCs was amiloride sensitive. These findings indicate that the mechanism for Na+ influx differs among taste bud types. All amiloride-sensitive currents had apparent inhibition constants in the submicromolar range. These results agree with afferent nerve recordings and raise the possibility that the extensive labeling of the ASSC protein and mRNA in the circumvallate papillae may reflect a pool of nonfunctional channels or a pool of channels that lacks sensitivity to amiloride.

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