In behavioral experiments, rats perceive sodium carbonate (Na2CO3) as super salty. In fact, when the dissociated Na+ ions are accounted for, rats perceive Na2CO3 as 5× saltier than equinormal concentrations of NaCl. The chorda tympani nerve (CT) responds to salts through at least two receptor mechanisms and is a model system for understanding how salt taste is transmitted to the brain. Here, we recorded CT nerve activity to a broad range of NaCl (3–300 mM) and Na2CO3 (3–300 mN) to investigate why Na2CO3 tastes so salty to rats. Benzamil, a specific epithelial sodium channel (ENaC) antagonist, was used to determine the relative contribution of apical ENaCs in Na2CO3 transduction. The benzamil-insensitive component of CT nerve responses was enhanced by increasing the adapted tongue temperature from 23°C to 30°C. Na2CO3 solutions are alkaline, so we compared neural responses (with and without benzamil) to 100 mM NaCl alone (6.2 pH) and at a pH (11.2 pH) that matched 100 mN Na2CO3. As expected, NaCl responses increased progressively with increasing concentration and temperature. Responses to 3 mN Na2CO3 were greater than 3 mM NaCl with and without benzamil, but the shape of the first log-fold range of was relatively flat. Adjusting the pH of NaCl to 11.2 abolished the thermal enhancement of 100 mN NaCl through the benzamil-insensitive pathway. Rinsing Na2CO3 off the tongue resulted in robust aftertaste that was concentration dependent, thermally sensitive, and benzamil-insensitive. Responses to alkaline NaCl did not recapitulate Na2CO3 responses or aftertaste, suggesting multiple transduction mechanisms for the cations (2Na+) and anion (CO3-2).

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