Chemosensory Perception

, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp 95–104 | Cite as

Chronic Oral Capsaicin Exposure During Development Leads to Adult Rats with Reduced Taste Bud Volumes

  • Jacquelyn M. Omelian
  • Kaeli K. Samson
  • Suzanne I. SollarsEmail author



A cross-sensory interaction between gustatory and trigeminal nerves occurs in the anterior tongue. Surgical manipulations have demonstrated that the strength of this relationship varies across development. Capsaicin is a neurotoxin that affects fibers of the somatosensory lingual nerve surrounding taste buds, but not fibers of the gustatory chorda tympani nerve which synapse with taste receptor cells. Since capsaicin is commonly consumed by many species, including humans, the experimental use of this neurotoxin provides a naturalistic perturbation of the lingual trigeminal system. Neonatal or adult rats consumed oral capsaicin for 40 days, and we examined the cross-sensory effect on the morphology of taste buds across development.


Rats received moderate doses of oral capsaicin, with chronic treatments occurring either before or after taste system maturation. Tongue morphology was examined either 2 or 50 days after treatment cessation. Edema, which has been previously suggested as a cause of changes in capsaicin-related gustatory function, was also assessed.


Reductions in taste bud volume occurred 50 days, but not 2 days post-treatment for rats treated as neonates. Adult rats at either time post-treatment were unaffected. Edema was not found to occur with the 5 ppm concentration of capsaicin we used.


Results further elucidate the cooperative relationship between these discrete sensory systems and highlight the developmentally mediated aspect of this interaction.


Chronic exposure to even moderate levels of noxious stimuli during development has the ability to impact the orosensory environment, and these changes may not be evident until long after exposure has ceased.


Plasticity Trigeminal Lingual Chorda tympani Cross-sensory interaction 



We would like to thank L. J. Martin for his comments on this manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving animals were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institution or practice at which the studies were conducted.


This study was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders #R01 DC04846, and by the University of Nebraska at Omaha Office of Graduate Studies.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jacquelyn M. Omelian
    • 1
  • Kaeli K. Samson
    • 2
  • Suzanne I. Sollars
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Nebraska at OmahaOmahaUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiostatisticsUniversity of Nebraska Medical CenterOmahaUSA

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