Distinct Regional Distributions of nk1 and nk3 Neurokinin Receptor Immunoreactivity in Rat Brainstem Gustatory Centers

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Tachykinins and their receptors are present in gustatory centers, but little is known about tachykinin function in gustation. In this study, immunohistochemical localization of substance P and two centrally prevalent neurokinin receptors, NK1 and NK3, was carried out in the rostral nucleus of the solitary tract and the caudal parabrachial nucleus to evaluate regional receptor/ligand correspondences. All three proteins showed regional variations in labeling density that correlated with distinct sites in gustatory centers. In the rostral nucleus of the solitary tract, the relative densities of substance P and NK1 receptors varied in parallel across subnuclei, with both being moderate to dense in the dorsocentral, chemoresponsive zone. NK3 receptors had a distinct distribution in the caudal half of this zone, suggesting a unique role in processing taste input from the posterior tongue. In the caudal parabrachial nucleus, substance P and NK1 receptor immunoreactivities were dense in the pontine taste area, while NK3 receptor labeling was sparse. The external medial subnucleus had substantial NK3 receptor and substance P labeling, but little NK1 receptor immunoreactivity. These findings suggest that distinct tachykinin ligand/neurokinin receptor combinations may be important in local processing of information within brainstem gustatory centers.