A major challenge in biology is to link cellular and molecular variations with behavioral phenotypes. Here, we studied somatosensory neurons from a panel of bird species from the family Anatidae, known for their tactile-based foraging behavior. We found that tactile specialists exhibit a proportional expansion of neuronal mechanoreceptors in trigeminal ganglia. The expansion of mechanoreceptors occurs via neurons with intermediately and slowly inactivating mechanocurrent. Such neurons contain the mechanically gated Piezo2 ion channel whose expression positively correlates with the expression of factors responsible for the development and function of mechanoreceptors. Conversely, Piezo2 expression negatively correlates with expression of molecules mediating the detection of temperature and pain, suggesting that the expansion of Piezo2-containing mechanoreceptors with prolonged mechanocurrent occurs at the expense of thermoreceptors and nociceptors. Our study suggests that the trade-off between neuronal subtypes is a general mechanism of tactile specialization at the level of somatosensory system.

Document Type


Publication Date


Notes/Citation Information

Published in Cell Reports, v. 26, issue 8, p. 1979-1987.e3.

© 2019 The Author(s).

This is an open access article under the CC BY license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Funding Information

This study was partly funded by NIH grant 1R01NS091300-01A1 (to E.O.G.), NSF CAREER grant 1453167 (to S.N.B.), and NIH grant 1R01NS097547-01A1 (to S.N.B.).

Related Content

Supplemental Information can be found with this article online at https://doi. org/10.1016/j.celrep.2019.01.100.

The accession number for the sequencing data reported in this paper is GEO: GSE125754.

mmc1.pdf (1768 kB)
Document S1. Figures S1–S4

mmc2.xlsx (698 kB)
Table S1. Correlation between the Expression of Piezo2 and Other Transcripts in Trigeminal Ganglia of Birds, Related to Figure 4