The nervous system of the vallata papilla and von Ebner glands was investigated in the rat tongue. Cells involved in the production of nitric oxide were identified by immunohistochemical detection of neuronal nitric oxide synthase type-1 and by cytochemical detection of NADPH-diaphorase. The analysis of serial sections showed that a ganglion composed of about 180-190 neuronal cells was present between the vallata papilla and von Ebner glands. These cells were positive for nitric oxide synthase type-1 and NADPH-diaphorase. From the ganglion, we observed nitrergic fibres running: (a) in the lamina propria of the receptor-free mucosa; (b) just below the gustatory epithelium; (c) in the von Ebner glands; and (d) around the vascular system of the vallata papilla. Our study suggests that the nitrergic ganglion cells may mediate interactions between chemoreceptorial systems in the vallata papilla and secretory cells in the von Ebner glands and that nitric oxide could be involved in the regulation of the blood supply to the vallata papilla and in the regulation of the von Ebner glands.
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