Thaumatin is a protein that tastes intensely sweet only to Old World monkeys and to higher primates, including man. Here we used pre‐embedding ultrastructural methods to study the distribution of thaumatin in apical regions of Rhesus monkey foliate papillae, using thaumatin conjugated to 5 nm gold particles. With freeze‐substitution we saw that gold‐labeled thaumatin bound to an electron‐opaque, sponge‐like secretory substance inside the taste bud pores. Labeled thaumatin was found at the surface of the secretory substance even deep inside the pore, where other, unlabeled cellular structures surrounded the substance. With freeze‐fracture deep‐etching the secretory substance that bound the thaumatin‐gold particles appeared coarsely granular. There was no labeling of any other taste bud pore structure, including microvilli and small membranelined vesicles. Pre‐incubation with an excess of unlabeled thaumatin inhibited binding with goldlabeled thaumatin. The results suggest that the secretory substance had the greatest affinity of all taste pore structures to the sweet‐tasting compound under our experimental conditions. Therefore, gustatory reception probably involves various taste compound binding structures, microvilli, and also secretory substances like the one described here which bound thaumatin. We speculate that the secretory substance may bind taste stimuli and serve as an intermediate between stimuli and receptors. It could be involved in stimulus removal or delivery or both. © 1993 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.
- Colloidal gold
- Electron microscopic cytochemistry
- Freeze‐fracture deep‐etching