Mechanosensory neurons across physiological systems sense force using diverse terminal morphologies. Arterial baroreceptors are sensory neurons that monitor blood pressure for real-time stabilization of cardiovascular output. Various aortic sensory terminals have been described, but those that sense blood pressure are unclear because of a lack of selective genetic tools. Here, we find that all baroreceptor neurons are marked in Piezo2-ires-Cre mice and then use genetic approaches to visualize the architecture of mechanosensory endings. Cre-guided ablation of vagal and glossopharyngeal PIEZO2 neurons eliminates the baroreceptor reflex and aortic depressor nerve effects on blood pressure and heart rate. Genetic mapping reveals that PIEZO2 neurons form a distinctive mechanosensory structure: macroscopic claws that surround the aortic arch and exude fine end-net endings. Other arterial sensory neurons that form flower-spray terminals are dispensable for baroreception. Together, these findings provide structural insights into how blood pressure is sensed in the aortic vessel wall. Min et al. use genetic approaches to reveal how neurons sense blood pressure. Elevated blood pressure evokes a classic neuronal reflex (the baroreceptor reflex), found here to require PIEZO2 neurons. To sense blood pressure, PIEZO2 neurons form large claws that surround the aorta and are decorated with mechanosensory endings.
Min, S., Chang, R. B., Prescott, S. L., Beeler, B., Joshi, N. R., Strochlic, D. E., & Liberles, S. D. (2019). Arterial Baroreceptors Sense Blood Pressure through Decorated Aortic Claws. Cell Reports, 29(8), 2192-2201.e3. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.celrep.2019.10.040