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1.  Lipopolysaccharide-induced inflammation attenuates taste progenitor cell proliferation and shortens the life span of taste bud cells 
BMC Neuroscience  2010;11:72.
The mammalian taste bud, a complex collection of taste sensory cells, supporting cells, and immature basal cells, is the structural unit for detecting taste stimuli in the oral cavity. Even though the cells of the taste bud undergo constant turnover, the structural homeostasis of the bud is maintained by balancing cell proliferation and cell death. Compared with nongustatory lingual epithelial cells, taste cells express higher levels of several inflammatory receptors and signalling proteins. Whether inflammation, an underlying condition in some diseases associated with taste disorders, interferes with taste cell renewal and turnover is unknown. Here we report the effects of lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-induced inflammation on taste progenitor cell proliferation and taste bud cell turnover in mouse taste tissues.
Intraperitoneal injection of LPS rapidly induced expression of several inflammatory cytokines, including tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α, interferon (IFN)-γ, and interleukin (IL)-6, in mouse circumvallate and foliate papillae. TNF-α and IFN-γ immunoreactivities were preferentially localized to subsets of cells in taste buds. LPS-induced inflammation significantly reduced the number of 5-bromo-2'-deoxyuridine (BrdU)-labeled newborn taste bud cells 1-3 days after LPS injection, suggesting an inhibition of taste bud cell renewal. BrdU pulse-chase experiments showed that BrdU-labeled taste cells had a shorter average life span in LPS-treated mice than in controls. To investigate whether LPS inhibits taste cell renewal by suppressing taste progenitor cell proliferation, we studied the expression of Ki67, a cell proliferation marker. Quantitative real-time RT-PCR revealed that LPS markedly reduced Ki67 mRNA levels in circumvallate and foliate epithelia. Immunofluorescent staining using anti-Ki67 antibodies showed that LPS decreased the number of Ki67-positive cells in the basal regions surrounding circumvallate taste buds, the niche for taste progenitor cells. PCR array experiments showed that the expression of cyclin B2 and E2F1, two key cell cycle regulators, was markedly downregulated by LPS in the circumvallate and foliate epithelia.
Our results show that LPS-induced inflammation inhibits taste progenitor cell proliferation and interferes with taste cell renewal. LPS accelerates cell turnover and modestly shortens the average life span of taste cells. These effects of inflammation may contribute to the development of taste disorders associated with infections.
PMCID: PMC2898829  PMID: 20537148
2.  Alterations in Size, Number, and Morphology of Gustatory Papillae and Taste Buds in BDNF Null Mutant Mice Demonstrate Neural Dependence of Developing Taste Organs 
Sensory ganglia that innervate taste buds and gustatory papillae (geniculate and petrosal) are reduced in volume by about 40% in mice with a targeted deletion of the gene for brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). In contrast, the trigeminal ganglion, which innervates papillae but not taste buds on the anterior tongue, is reduced by only about 18%. These specific alterations in ganglia that innervate taste organs make possible a test for roles of lingual innervation in the development of appropriate number, morphology, and spatial pattern of fungiform and circumvallate papillae and associated taste buds. We studied tongues of BDNF null mutant and wild-type littermates and made quantitative analyses of all fungiform papillae on the anterior tongue, the single circumvallate papilla on the posterior tongue, and all taste buds in both papilla types. Fungiform papillae and taste buds were reduced in number by about 60% and were substantially smaller in diameter in mutant mice 15–25 days postnatal. Remaining fungiform papillae were selectively concentrated in the tongue tip region. The circumvallate papilla was reduced in diameter and length by about 40%, and papilla morphology was disrupted. Taste bud number in the circumvallate was reduced by about 70% in mutant tongues, and the remaining taste buds were smaller than those on wild-type tongues. Our results demonstrate a selective dependence of taste organs on a full complement of appropriate innervation for normal growth and morphogenesis. Effects on papillae are not random but are more pronounced in specific lingual regions. Although the geniculate and petrosal ganglia sustain at least half of their normal complement of cell number in BDNF −/− mice, remaining ganglion cells do not substitute for lost neurons to rescue taste organs at control numbers. Whereas gustatory ganglia and the taste papillae initially form independently, our results suggest interdependence in later development because ganglia derive BDNF support from target organs and papillae require sensory innervation for morphogenesis.
PMCID: PMC2710125  PMID: 10363708
fungiform papilla; circumvallate papilla; geniculate ganglion; petrosal ganglion; trigeminal ganglion
3.  The Formation of Endoderm-Derived Taste Sensory Organs Requires a Pax9-Dependent Expansion of Embryonic Taste Bud Progenitor Cells 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(10):e1004709.
In mammals, taste buds develop in different regions of the oral cavity. Small epithelial protrusions form fungiform papillae on the ectoderm-derived dorsum of the tongue and contain one or few taste buds, while taste buds in the soft palate develop without distinct papilla structures. In contrast, the endoderm-derived circumvallate and foliate papillae located at the back of the tongue contain a large number of taste buds. These taste buds cluster in deep epithelial trenches, which are generated by intercalating a period of epithelial growth between initial placode formation and conversion of epithelial cells into sensory cells. How epithelial trench formation is genetically regulated during development is largely unknown. Here we show that Pax9 acts upstream of Pax1 and Sox9 in the expanding taste progenitor field of the mouse circumvallate papilla. While a reduced number of taste buds develop in a growth-retarded circumvallate papilla of Pax1 mutant mice, its development arrests completely in Pax9-deficient mice. In addition, the Pax9 mutant circumvallate papilla trenches lack expression of K8 and Prox1 in the taste bud progenitor cells, and gradually differentiate into an epidermal-like epithelium. We also demonstrate that taste placodes of the soft palate develop through a Pax9-dependent induction. Unexpectedly, Pax9 is dispensable for patterning, morphogenesis and maintenance of taste buds that develop in ectoderm-derived fungiform papillae. Collectively, our data reveal an endoderm-specific developmental program for the formation of taste buds and their associated papilla structures. In this pathway, Pax9 is essential to generate a pool of taste bud progenitors and to maintain their competence towards prosensory cell fate induction.
Author Summary
Gustatory perception is an evolutionary ancient sense, and the ability to discriminate toxic and digestible substances is vitally important for all organisms. In mammals, taste perception occurs in taste buds, groups of sensory cells that are housed in various types of taste papillae in the oral cavity. Little is known about the genetic and developmental programs that underlie the different architectures of these papillae. Using mouse models, we identified the transcription factor Pax9 as a major determinant for the development of endoderm-derived taste papillae, which develop in different locations in the back of the oral cavity. In these papillae, Pax9 regulates the expansion of the taste progenitor field, maintains the competence of these progenitors to interact with afferent nerve fibers of the glossopharyngeal nerve, and prevents their differentiation towards epidermal-like epithelial cells. In contrast, Pax9 is not required for the development of ectoderm-derived taste papillae that are distributed over the dorsum of the tongue. Our data reveal that mammals have evolved a specific developmental program to generate taste buds and associated papilla structures in different parts of the oral cavity.
PMCID: PMC4191947  PMID: 25299669
4.  Differential expression of a BMP4 reporter allele in anterior fungiform versus posterior circumvallate taste buds of mice 
BMC Neuroscience  2010;11:129.
Bone Morphogenetic Protein 4 (BMP4) is a diffusible factor which regulates embryonic taste organ development. However, the role of BMP4 in taste buds of adult mice is unknown. We utilized transgenic mice with LacZ under the control of the BMP4 promoter to reveal the expression of BMP4 in the tongues of adult mice. Further we evaluate the pattern of BMP4 expression with that of markers of specific taste bud cell types and cell proliferation to define and compare the cell populations expressing BMP4 in anterior (fungiform papillae) and posterior (circumvallate papilla) tongue.
BMP4 is expressed in adult fungiform and circumvallate papillae, i.e., lingual structures composed of non-taste epithelium and taste buds. Unexpectedly, we find both differences and similarities with respect to expression of BMP4-driven ß-galactosidase. In circumvallate papillae, many fusiform cells within taste buds are BMP4-ß-gal positive. Further, a low percentage of BMP4-expressing cells within circumvallate taste buds is immunopositive for markers of each of the three differentiated taste cell types (I, II and III). BMP4-positive intragemmal cells also expressed a putative marker of immature taste cells, Sox2, and consistent with this finding, intragemmal cells expressed BMP4-ß-gal within 24 hours after their final mitosis, as determined by BrdU birthdating. By contrast, in fungiform papillae, BMP4-ß-gal positive cells are never encountered within taste buds. However, in both circumvallate and fungiform papillae, BMP4-ß-gal expressing cells are located in the perigemmal region, comprising basal and edge epithelial cells adjacent to taste buds proper. This region houses the proliferative cell population that gives rise to adult taste cells. However, perigemmal BMP4-ß-gal cells appear mitotically silent in both fungiform and circumvallate taste papillae, as we do not find evidence of their active proliferation using cell cycle immunomarkers and BrdU birthdating.
Our data suggest that intragemmal BMP4-ß-gal cells in circumvallate papillae are immature taste cells which eventually differentiate into each of the 3 taste cell types, whereas perigemmal BMP4-ß-gal cells in both circumvallate and fungiform papillae may be slow cycling stem cells, or belong to the stem cell niche to regulate taste cell renewal from the proliferative cell population.
PMCID: PMC2966460  PMID: 20942907
5.  Functional Cell Types in Taste Buds Have Distinct Longevities 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e53399.
Taste buds are clusters of polarized sensory cells embedded in stratified oral epithelium. In adult mammals, taste buds turn over continuously and are replenished through the birth of new cells in the basal layer of the surrounding non-sensory epithelium. The half-life of cells in mammalian taste buds has been estimated as 8–12 days on average. Yet, earlier studies did not address whether the now well-defined functional taste bud cell types all exhibit the same lifetime. We employed a recently developed thymidine analog, 5-ethynil-2′-deoxyuridine (EdU) to re-evaluate the incorporation of newly born cells into circumvallate taste buds of adult mice. By combining EdU-labeling with immunostaining for selected markers, we tracked the differentiation and lifespan of the constituent cell types of taste buds. EdU was primarily incorporated into basal extragemmal cells, the principal source for replenishing taste bud cells. Undifferentiated EdU-labeled cells began migrating into circumvallate taste buds within 1 day of their birth. Type II (Receptor) taste cells began to differentiate from EdU-labeled precursors beginning 2 days after birth and then were eliminated with a half-life of 8 days. Type III (Presynaptic) taste cells began differentiating after a delay of 3 days after EdU-labeling, and they survived much longer, with a half-life of 22 days. We also scored taste bud cells that belong to neither Type II nor Type III, a heterogeneous group that includes mostly Type I cells, and also undifferentiated or immature cells. A non-linear decay fit described these cells as two sub-populations with half-lives of 8 and 24 days respectively. Our data suggest that many post-mitotic cells may remain quiescent within taste buds before differentiating into mature taste cells. A small number of slow-cycling cells may also exist within the perimeter of the taste bud. Based on their incidence, we hypothesize that these may be progenitors for Type III cells.
PMCID: PMC3540047  PMID: 23320081
6.  Combined In Silico and In Vivo Analyses Reveal Role of Hes1 in Taste Cell Differentiation 
PLoS Genetics  2009;5(4):e1000443.
The sense of taste is of critical importance to animal survival. Although studies of taste signal transduction mechanisms have provided detailed information regarding taste receptor calcium signaling molecules (TRCSMs, required for sweet/bitter/umami taste signal transduction), the ontogeny of taste cells is still largely unknown. We used a novel approach to investigate the molecular regulation of taste system development in mice by combining in silico and in vivo analyses. After discovering that TRCSMs colocalized within developing circumvallate papillae (CVP), we used computational analysis of the upstream regulatory regions of TRCSMs to investigate the possibility of a common regulatory network for TRCSM transcription. Based on this analysis, we identified Hes1 as a likely common regulatory factor, and examined its function in vivo. Expression profile analyses revealed that decreased expression of nuclear HES1 correlated with expression of type II taste cell markers. After stage E18, the CVP of Hes1−/− mutants displayed over 5-fold more TRCSM-immunoreactive cells than did the CVP of their wild-type littermates. Thus, according to our composite analyses, Hes1 is likely to play a role in orchestrating taste cell differentiation in developing taste buds.
Author Summary
The sensation of taste is composed of five basic modalities: sweet, bitter, umami, sour, and salty. Specialized taste cells perceive the various chemical cues within food. About 100 taste cells assemble into onion-shaped clusters called taste buds, which are located on taste papillae in the tongue epithelium and on oral mucosa. Of the five taste modalities, the taste stimulants responsible for sweet, bitter, and umami tastes are recognized by a group of G protein–coupled taste receptors, and the signal transduction pathways utilized following receptor stimulation share common molecules. However, it is still largely unknown how these molecules are regulated during taste cell development. We performed computer analyses based on previously known information about signal transduction pathways involved in the taste-sensing system to identify taste stem cells/progenitor factors of type II taste cells (responsible for sweet, bitter, and umami taste sensations). We found several transcription factors likely to bind to the regulatory regions of taste-related calcium signaling molecules (TRCSMs), and identified Hes1 as a potential candidate for common regulatory factors of TRCSMs. In vivo analyses using wild-type and Hes1 mutant mice confirmed that Hes1 regulates differentiation of bitter-, sweet-, and umami-sensing cells.
PMCID: PMC2655725  PMID: 19343206
7.  Amiloride-sensitive channels in type I fungiform taste cells in mouse 
BMC Neuroscience  2008;9:1.
Taste buds are the sensory organs of taste perception. Three types of taste cells have been described. Type I cells have voltage-gated outward currents, but lack voltage-gated inward currents. These cells have been presumed to play only a support role in the taste bud. Type II cells have voltage-gated Na+ and K+ current, and the receptors and transduction machinery for bitter, sweet, and umami taste stimuli. Type III cells have voltage-gated Na+, K+, and Ca2+ currents, and make prominent synapses with afferent nerve fibers. Na+ salt transduction in part involves amiloride-sensitive epithelial sodium channels (ENaCs). In rodents, these channels are located in taste cells of fungiform papillae on the anterior part of the tongue innervated by the chorda tympani nerve. However, the taste cell type that expresses ENaCs is not known. This study used whole cell recordings of single fungiform taste cells of transgenic mice expressing GFP in Type II taste cells to identify the taste cells responding to amiloride. We also used immunocytochemistry to further define and compare cell types in fungiform and circumvallate taste buds of these mice.
Taste cell types were identified by their response to depolarizing voltage steps and their presence or absence of GFP fluorescence. TRPM5-GFP taste cells expressed large voltage-gated Na+ and K+ currents, but lacked voltage-gated Ca2+ currents, as expected from previous studies. Approximately half of the unlabeled cells had similar membrane properties, suggesting they comprise a separate population of Type II cells. The other half expressed voltage-gated outward currents only, typical of Type I cells. A single taste cell had voltage-gated Ca2+ current characteristic of Type III cells. Responses to amiloride occurred only in cells that lacked voltage-gated inward currents. Immunocytochemistry showed that fungiform taste buds have significantly fewer Type II cells expressing PLC signalling components, and significantly fewer Type III cells than circumvallate taste buds.
The principal finding is that amiloride-sensitive Na+ channels appear to be expressed in cells that lack voltage-gated inward currents, likely the Type I taste cells. These cells were previously assumed to provide only a support function in the taste bud.
PMCID: PMC2235881  PMID: 18171468
8.  Qualitative and quantitative differences between taste buds of the rat and mouse 
BMC Neuroscience  2007;8:5.
Numerous electrophysiological, ultrastructural, and immunocytochemical studies on rodent taste buds have been carried out on rat taste buds. In recent years, however, the mouse has become the species of choice for molecular and other studies on sensory transduction in taste buds. Do rat and mouse taste buds have the same cell types, sensory transduction markers and synaptic proteins? In the present study we have used antisera directed against PLCβ2, α-gustducin, serotonin (5-HT), PGP 9.5 and synaptobrevin-2 to determine the percentages of taste cells expressing these markers in taste buds in both rodent species. We also determined the numbers of taste cells in the taste buds as well as taste bud volume.
There are significant differences (p < 0.05) between mouse and rat taste buds in the percentages of taste cells displaying immunoreactivity for all five markers. Rat taste buds display significantly more immunoreactivity than mice for PLCβ2 (31.8% vs 19.6%), α-gustducin (18% vs 14.6%), and synaptobrevin-2 (31.2% vs 26.3%). Mice, however, have more cells that display immunoreactivity to 5-HT (15.9% vs 13.7%) and PGP 9.5 (14.3% vs 9.4%). Mouse taste buds contain an average of 85.8 taste cells vs 68.4 taste cells in rat taste buds. The average volume of a mouse taste bud (42,000 μm3) is smaller than a rat taste bud (64,200 μm3). The numerical density of taste cells in mouse circumvallate taste buds (2.1 cells/1000 μm3) is significantly higher than that in the rat (1.2 cells/1000 μm3).
These results suggest that rats and mice differ significantly in the percentages of taste cells expressing signaling molecules. We speculate that these observed dissimilarities may reflect differences in their gustatory processing.
PMCID: PMC1779794  PMID: 17207280
9.  Espin cytoskeletal proteins in the sensory cells of rodent taste buds 
Journal of neurocytology  2006;34(3-5):171-182.
Espins are multifunctional actin-bundling proteins that are highly enriched in the microvilli of certain chemosensory and mechanosensory cells, where they are believed to regulate the integrity and/or dimensions of the parallel-actin-bundle cytoskeletal scaffold. We have determined that, in rats and mice, affinity purified espin antibody intensely labels the lingual and palatal taste buds of the oral cavity and taste buds in the pharyngo-laryngeal region. Intense immunolabeling was observed in the apical, microvillar region of taste buds, while the level of cytoplasmic labeling in taste bud cells was considerably lower. Taste bud cells contain tightly packed collections of sensory cells (light, or type II plus type III) and supporting cells (dark, or type I), which can be distinguished by microscopic features and cell type-specific markers. On the basis of results obtained using an antigen-retrieval method in conjunction with double immunofluorescence for espin and sensory taste cell-specific markers, we propose that espins are expressed predominantly in the sensory cells of rat circumvallate taste buds. In confocal images, we counted 21.5±0.3 espin-positive cells/taste bud, in agreement with a previous report showing 20.7±1.3 light cells/taste bud when counted at the ultrastructural level. The espin antibody labeled spindle-shaped cells with round nuclei and showed 100% colocalization with cell-specific markers recognizing all type II [inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate receptor type III (IP3R3),α-gustducin, protein-specific gene product 9.5 (PGP9.5)] and a subpopulation of type III (IP3R3, PGP9.5) taste cells. On average, 72%, 50%, and 32% of the espin-positive taste cells were labeled with antibodies to IP3R3, α-gustducin, and PGP9.5, respectively. Upon sectional analysis, the taste buds of rat circumvallate papillae commonly revealed a multi-tiered, espin-positive apical cytoskeletal apparatus. One espin-positive zone, a collection of ~3 μm-long microvilli occupying the taste pore, was separated by an espin-depleted zone from a second espin-positive zone situated lower within the taste pit. This latter zone included espin-positive rod-like structures that occasionally extended basally to a depth of 10-12 μm into the cytoplasm of taste cells. We propose that the espin-positive zone in the taste pit coincides with actin bundles in association with the microvilli of type II taste cells, whereas the espin-positive microvilli in the taste pore are the single microvilli of type III taste cells.
PMCID: PMC2908427  PMID: 16841162
actin; α-gustducin; circumvallate papilla; IP3R3; microvilli; PGP9.5; taste receptor cell
10.  Genome-Wide Analysis of Gene Expression in Primate Taste Buds Reveals Links to Diverse Processes 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(7):e6395.
Efforts to unravel the mechanisms underlying taste sensation (gustation) have largely focused on rodents. Here we present the first comprehensive characterization of gene expression in primate taste buds. Our findings reveal unique new insights into the biology of taste buds. We generated a taste bud gene expression database using laser capture microdissection (LCM) procured fungiform (FG) and circumvallate (CV) taste buds from primates. We also used LCM to collect the top and bottom portions of CV taste buds. Affymetrix genome wide arrays were used to analyze gene expression in all samples. Known taste receptors are preferentially expressed in the top portion of taste buds. Genes associated with the cell cycle and stem cells are preferentially expressed in the bottom portion of taste buds, suggesting that precursor cells are located there. Several chemokines including CXCL14 and CXCL8 are among the highest expressed genes in taste buds, indicating that immune system related processes are active in taste buds. Several genes expressed specifically in endocrine glands including growth hormone releasing hormone and its receptor are also strongly expressed in taste buds, suggesting a link between metabolism and taste. Cell type-specific expression of transcription factors and signaling molecules involved in cell fate, including KIT, reveals the taste bud as an active site of cell regeneration, differentiation, and development. IKBKAP, a gene mutated in familial dysautonomia, a disease that results in loss of taste buds, is expressed in taste cells that communicate with afferent nerve fibers via synaptic transmission. This database highlights the power of LCM coupled with transcriptional profiling to dissect the molecular composition of normal tissues, represents the most comprehensive molecular analysis of primate taste buds to date, and provides a foundation for further studies in diverse aspects of taste biology.
PMCID: PMC2712080  PMID: 19636377
11.  A2BR Adenosine Receptor Modulates Sweet Taste in Circumvallate Taste Buds 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(1):e30032.
In response to taste stimulation, taste buds release ATP, which activates ionotropic ATP receptors (P2X2/P2X3) on taste nerves as well as metabotropic (P2Y) purinergic receptors on taste bud cells. The action of the extracellular ATP is terminated by ectonucleotidases, ultimately generating adenosine, which itself can activate one or more G-protein coupled adenosine receptors: A1, A2A, A2B, and A3. Here we investigated the expression of adenosine receptors in mouse taste buds at both the nucleotide and protein expression levels. Of the adenosine receptors, only A2B receptor (A2BR) is expressed specifically in taste epithelia. Further, A2BR is expressed abundantly only in a subset of taste bud cells of posterior (circumvallate, foliate), but not anterior (fungiform, palate) taste fields in mice. Analysis of double-labeled tissue indicates that A2BR occurs on Type II taste bud cells that also express Gα14, which is present only in sweet-sensitive taste cells of the foliate and circumvallate papillae. Glossopharyngeal nerve recordings from A2BR knockout mice show significantly reduced responses to both sucrose and synthetic sweeteners, but normal responses to tastants representing other qualities. Thus, our study identified a novel regulator of sweet taste, the A2BR, which functions to potentiate sweet responses in posterior lingual taste fields.
PMCID: PMC3254652  PMID: 22253866
12.  Mice lacking the p75 receptor fail to acquire a normal complement of taste buds and geniculate ganglion neurons by adulthood 
Brain derived neurotrophic factor and neurotrophin-4 are required for normal taste bud development. Although these neurotrophins normally function via the tyrosine kinase receptor, trkB, they also bind to the pan-neurotrophin receptor, p75. The goal of the present study was to determine whether the p75 receptor is required for the development or maintenance of a full complement of adult taste buds. Mice with p75 null mutations lose 34% of their circumvallate taste buds, 36% of their fungiform papillae, and 26% of their fungiform taste buds by adulthood. The reduction of taste buds in the adult circumvallate papilla was similar to that observed previously at postnatal day 7 ((Fan et al., 2004). Taken together, these findings indicate that the p75 receptor is critical for the development of a full complement of taste buds, but is not required for maintenance of circumvallate taste buds in adulthood. Immunolabeling for p75 was not observed in taste buds, indicating that p75 signaling influences taste bud number indirectly. However, geniculate ganglion neurons, which provides innervation to fungiform taste buds, express the p75 receptor. Mice with p75-null mutations also have fewer neurons in the geniculate ganglion. Together, these results suggest that survival of geniculate neurons is essential for the development of a full complement of taste buds.
PMCID: PMC2559943  PMID: 17083122
taste buds; p75 receptor; neurotrophin; geniculate ganglion
13.  Expression of Genes Encoding Multi-Transmembrane Proteins in Specific Primate Taste Cell Populations 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(12):e7682.
Using fungiform (FG) and circumvallate (CV) taste buds isolated by laser capture microdissection and analyzed using gene arrays, we previously constructed a comprehensive database of gene expression in primates, which revealed over 2,300 taste bud-associated genes. Bioinformatics analyses identified hundreds of genes predicted to encode multi-transmembrane domain proteins with no previous association with taste function. A first step in elucidating the roles these gene products play in gustation is to identify the specific taste cell types in which they are expressed.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Using double label in situ hybridization analyses, we identified seven new genes expressed in specific taste cell types, including sweet, bitter, and umami cells (TRPM5-positive), sour cells (PKD2L1-positive), as well as other taste cell populations. Transmembrane protein 44 (TMEM44), a protein with seven predicted transmembrane domains with no homology to GPCRs, is expressed in a TRPM5-negative and PKD2L1-negative population that is enriched in the bottom portion of taste buds and may represent developmentally immature taste cells. Calcium homeostasis modulator 1 (CALHM1), a component of a novel calcium channel, along with family members CALHM2 and CALHM3; multiple C2 domains; transmembrane 1 (MCTP1), a calcium-binding transmembrane protein; and anoctamin 7 (ANO7), a member of the recently identified calcium-gated chloride channel family, are all expressed in TRPM5 cells. These proteins may modulate and effect calcium signalling stemming from sweet, bitter, and umami receptor activation. Synaptic vesicle glycoprotein 2B (SV2B), a regulator of synaptic vesicle exocytosis, is expressed in PKD2L1 cells, suggesting that this taste cell population transmits tastant information to gustatory afferent nerve fibers via exocytic neurotransmitter release.
Identification of genes encoding multi-transmembrane domain proteins expressed in primate taste buds provides new insights into the processes of taste cell development, signal transduction, and information coding. Discrete taste cell populations exhibit highly specific gene expression patterns, supporting a model whereby each mature taste receptor cell is responsible for sensing, transmitting, and coding a specific taste quality.
PMCID: PMC2780358  PMID: 19997627
14.  Effects of dietary Na+ deprivation on epithelial Na+ channel (ENaC), BDNF, and TrkB mRNA expression in the rat tongue 
BMC Neuroscience  2009;10:19.
In rodents, dietary Na+ deprivation reduces gustatory responses of primary taste fibers and central taste neurons to lingual Na+ stimulation. However, in the rat taste bud cells Na+ deprivation increases the number of amiloride sensitive epithelial Na+ channels (ENaC), which are considered as the "receptor" of the Na+ component of salt taste. To explore the mechanisms, the expression of the three ENaC subunits (α, β and γ) in taste buds were observed from rats fed with diets containing either 0.03% (Na+ deprivation) or 1% (control) NaCl for 15 days, by using in situ hybridization and real-time quantitative RT-PCR (qRT-PCR). Since BDNF/TrkB signaling is involved in the neural innervation of taste buds, the effects of Na+ deprivation on BDNF and its receptor TrkB expression in the rat taste buds were also examined.
In situ hybridization analysis showed that all three ENaC subunit mRNAs were found in the rat fungiform taste buds and lingual epithelia, but in the vallate and foliate taste buds, only α ENaC mRNA was easily detected, while β and γ ENaC mRNAs were much less than those in the fungiform taste buds. Between control and low Na+ fed animals, the numbers of taste bud cells expressing α, β and γ ENaC subunits were not significantly different in the fungiform, vallate and foliate taste buds, respectively. Similarly, qRT-PCR also indicated that Na+ deprivation had no effect on any ENaC subunit expression in the three types of taste buds. However, Na+ deprivation reduced BDNF mRNA expression by 50% in the fungiform taste buds, but not in the vallate and foliate taste buds. The expression of TrkB was not different between control and Na+ deprived rats, irrespective of the taste papillae type.
The findings demonstrate that dietary Na+ deprivation does not change ENaC mRNA expression in rat taste buds, but reduces BDNF mRNA expression in the fungiform taste buds. Given the roles of BDNF in survival of cells and target innervation, our results suggest that dietary Na+ deprivation might lead to a loss of gustatory innervation in the mouse fungiform taste buds.
PMCID: PMC2661083  PMID: 19284620
15.  Oxytocin Signaling in Mouse Taste Buds 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(8):e11980.
The neuropeptide, oxytocin (OXT), acts on brain circuits to inhibit food intake. Mutant mice lacking OXT (OXT knockout) overconsume salty and sweet (i.e. sucrose, saccharin) solutions. We asked if OXT might also act on taste buds via its receptor, OXTR.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Using RT-PCR, we detected the expression of OXTR in taste buds throughout the oral cavity, but not in adjacent non-taste lingual epithelium. By immunostaining tissues from OXTR-YFP knock-in mice, we found that OXTR is expressed in a subset of Glial-like (Type I) taste cells, and also in cells on the periphery of taste buds. Single-cell RT-PCR confirmed this cell-type assignment. Using Ca2+ imaging, we observed that physiologically appropriate concentrations of OXT evoked [Ca2+]i mobilization in a subset of taste cells (EC50 ∼33 nM). OXT-evoked responses were significantly inhibited by the OXTR antagonist, L-371,257. Isolated OXT-responsive taste cells were neither Receptor (Type II) nor Presynaptic (Type III) cells, consistent with our immunofluorescence observations. We also investigated the source of OXT peptide that may act on taste cells. Both RT-PCR and immunostaining suggest that the OXT peptide is not produced in taste buds or in their associated nerves. Finally, we also examined the morphology of taste buds from mice that lack OXTR. Taste buds and their constituent cell types appeared very similar in mice with two, one or no copies of the OXTR gene.
We conclude that OXT elicits Ca2+ signals via OXTR in murine taste buds. OXT-responsive cells are most likely a subset of Glial-like (Type I) taste cells. OXT itself is not produced locally in taste tissue and is likely delivered through the circulation. Loss of OXTR does not grossly alter the morphology of any of the cell types contained in taste buds. Instead, we speculate that OXT-responsive Glial-like (Type I) taste bud cells modulate taste signaling and afferent sensory output. Such modulation would complement central pathways of appetite regulation that employ circulating homeostatic and satiety signals.
PMCID: PMC2916830  PMID: 20700536
16.  Vismodegib, an antagonist of hedgehog signaling, directly alters taste molecular signaling in taste buds 
Cancer Medicine  2014;4(2):245-252.
Vismodegib, a highly selective inhibitor of hedgehog (Hh) pathway, is an approved treatment for basal-cell carcinoma. Patients on treatment with vismodegib often report profound alterations in taste sensation. The cellular mechanisms underlying the alterations have not been studied. Sonic Hh (Shh) signaling is required for cell growth and differentiation. In taste buds, Shh is exclusively expressed in type IV taste cells, which are undifferentiated basal cells and the precursors of the three types of taste sensing cells. Thus, we investigated if vismodegib has an inhibitory effect on taste cell turnover because of its known effects on Hh signaling. We gavaged C57BL/6J male mice daily with either vehicle or 30 mg/kg vismodegib for 15 weeks. The gustatory behavior and immunohistochemical profile of taste cells were examined. Vismodegib-treated mice showed decreased growth rate and behavioral responsivity to sweet and bitter stimuli, compared to vehicle-treated mice. We found that vismodegib-treated mice had significant reductions in taste bud size and numbers of taste cells per taste bud. Additionally, vismodegib treatment resulted in decreased numbers of Ki67- and Shh-expressing cells in taste buds. The numbers of phospholipase Cβ2- and α-gustducin-expressing cells, which contain biochemical machinery for sweet and bitter sensing, were reduced in vismodegib-treated mice. Furthermore, vismodegib treatment resulted in reduction in numbers of T1R3, glucagon-like peptide-1, and glucagon-expressing cells, which are known to modulate sweet taste sensitivity. These results suggest that inhibition of Shh signaling by vismodegib treatment directly results in alteration of taste due to local effects in taste buds.
PMCID: PMC4329008  PMID: 25354792
Basal-cell carcinoma; sonic hedgehog; taste buds; taste perception; Vismodegib
17.  Immunocytochemical analysis of P2X2 in rat circumvallate taste buds 
BMC Neuroscience  2012;13:51.
Our laboratory has shown that classical synapses and synaptic proteins are associated with Type III cells. Yet it is generally accepted that Type II cells transduce bitter, sweet and umami stimuli. No classical synapses, however, have been found associated with Type II cells. Recent studies indicate that the ionotropic purinergic receptors P2X2/P2X3 are present in rodent taste buds. Taste nerve processes express the ionotropic purinergic receptors (P2X2/P2X3). P2X2/P2X3Dbl−/− mice are not responsive to sweet, umami and bitter stimuli, and it has been proposed that ATP acts as a neurotransmitter in taste buds. The goal of the present study is to learn more about the nature of purinergic contacts in rat circumvallate taste buds by examining immunoreactivity to antisera directed against the purinergic receptor P2X2.
P2X2-like immunoreactivity is present in intragemmal nerve processes in rat circumvallate taste buds. Intense immunoreactivity can also be seen in the subgemmal nerve plexuses located below the basal lamina. The P2X2 immunoreactive nerve processes also display syntaxin-1-LIR. The immunoreactive nerves are in close contact with the IP3R3-LIR Type II cells and syntaxin-1-LIR and/or 5-HT-LIR Type III cells. Taste cell synapses are observed only from Type III taste cells onto P2X2-LIR nerve processes. Unusually large, “atypical” mitochondria in the Type II taste cells are found only at close appositions with P2X2-LIR nerve processes. P2X2 immunogold particles are concentrated at the membranes of nerve processes at close appositions with taste cells.
Based on our immunofluorescence and immunoelectron microscopical studies we believe that both perigemmal and most all intragemmal nerve processes display P2X2-LIR. Moreover, colloidal gold immunoelectron microscopy indicates that P2X2-LIR in nerve processes is concentrated at sites of close apposition with Type II cells. This supports the hypothesis that ATP may be a key neurotransmitter in taste transduction and that Type II cells release ATP, activating P2X2 receptors in nerve processes.
PMCID: PMC3507709  PMID: 22621423
18.  Expression of GABAergic Receptors in Mouse Taste Receptor Cells 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(10):e13639.
Multiple excitatory neurotransmitters have been identified in the mammalian taste transduction, with few studies focused on inhibitory neurotransmitters. Since the synthetic enzyme glutamate decarboxylase (GAD) for gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is expressed in a subset of mouse taste cells, we hypothesized that other components of the GABA signaling pathway are likely expressed in this system. GABA signaling is initiated by the activation of either ionotropic receptors (GABAA and GABAC) or metabotropic receptors (GABAB) while it is terminated by the re-uptake of GABA through transporters (GATs).
Methodology/Principal Findings
Using reverse transcriptase-PCR (RT-PCR) analysis, we investigated the expression of different GABA signaling molecules in the mouse taste system. Taste receptor cells (TRCs) in the circumvallate papillae express multiple subunits of the GABAA and GABAB receptors as well as multiple GATs. Immunocytochemical analyses examined the distribution of the GABA machinery in the circumvallate papillae. Both GABAA-and GABAB- immunoreactivity were detected in the peripheral taste receptor cells. We also used transgenic mice that express green fluorescent protein (GFP) in either the Type II taste cells, which can respond to bitter, sweet or umami taste stimuli, or in the Type III GAD67 expressing taste cells. Thus, we were able to identify that GABAergic receptors are expressed in some Type II and Type III taste cells. Mouse GAT4 labeling was concentrated in the cells surrounding the taste buds with a few positively labeled TRCs at the margins of the taste buds.
The presence of GABAergic receptors localized on Type II and Type III taste cells suggests that GABA is likely modulating evoked taste responses in the mouse taste bud.
PMCID: PMC2964312  PMID: 21049022
19.  Inflammation Activates the Interferon Signaling Pathways in Taste Bud Cells 
Patients with viral and bacterial infections or other inflammatory illnesses often experience taste dysfunctions. The agents responsible for these taste disorders are thought to be related to infection-induced inflammation, but the mechanisms are not known. As a first step in characterizing the possible role of inflammation in taste disorders, we report here evidence for the presence of interferon (IFN)-mediated signaling pathways in taste bud cells. IFN receptors, particularly the IFN-γ receptor IFNGR1, are co-expressed with the taste cell-type markers neuronal cell adhesion molecule and α-gustducin, suggesting that both the taste receptor cells and synapse-forming cells in the taste bud can be stimulated by IFN. Incubation of taste bud-containing lingual epithelia with recombinant IFN-α and IFN-γ triggered the IFN-mediated signaling cascades, resulting in the phosphorylation of the downstream STAT1 transcription factor. Intraperitoneal injection of lipopolysaccharide or polyinosinic:polycytidylic acid into mice, mimicking bacterial and viral infections, respectively, altered gene expression patterns in taste bud cells. Furthermore, the systemic administration of either IFN-α or IFN-γ significantly increased the number of taste bud cells undergoing programmed cell death. These findings suggest that bacterial and viral infection-induced IFNs can act directly on taste bud cells, affecting their cellular function in taste transduction, and that IFN-induced apoptosis in taste buds may cause abnormal cell turnover and skew the representation of different taste bud cell types, leading to the development of taste disorders. To our knowledge, this is the first study providing direct evidence that inflammation can affect taste buds through cytokine signaling pathways.
PMCID: PMC2096741  PMID: 17913904
inflammation; cytokine; interferon; gene expression; taste bud; taste disorder
20.  Expression of the Voltage-Gated Potassium Channel KCNQ1 in Mammalian Taste Bud Cells and the Effect of Its Null-Mutation on Taste Preferences 
Vertebrate taste buds undergo continual cell turnover. To understand how the gustatory progenitor cells in the stratified lingual epithelium migrate and differentiate into different types of mature taste cells, we sought to identify genes that were selectively expressed in taste cells at different maturation stages. Here we report the expression of the voltage-gated potassium channel KCNQ1 in mammalian taste buds of mouse, rat and human. Immunohistochemistry and nuclear staining showed that nearly all rodent and human taste cells express this channel. Double immunostaining with antibodies against type II and III taste cell markers validated the presence of KCNQ1 in these two types of cells. Co-localization studies with cytokeratin 14 indicated that KCNQ1 is also expressed in type IV basal precursor cells. Null mutation of the kcnq1 gene in mouse, however, did not alter the gross structure of taste buds or the expression of taste signaling molecules. Behavioral assays showed that the mutant mice display reduced preference to some umami substances, but not to any other taste compounds tested. Gustatory nerve recordings, however, were unable to detect any significant change in the integrated nerve responses of the mutant mice to umami stimuli. These results suggest that although it is expressed in nearly all taste bud cells, the function of KCNQ1 is not required for gross taste bud development or peripheral taste transduction pathways, and the reduced preference of kcnq1-null mice in the behavioral assays may be attributable to the deficiency in the central nervous system or other organs.
PMCID: PMC2734193  PMID: 19006182
cell turnover; human biopsy; coexpression; gene knockout
21.  Fungiform Taste Bud Degeneration in C57BL/6J Mice Following Chorda-Lingual Nerve Transection 
Taste buds are dependent on innervation for normal morphology and function. Fungiform taste bud degeneration after chorda tympani nerve injury has been well documented in rats, hamsters, and gerbils. The current study examines fungiform taste bud distribution and structure in adult C57BL/6J mice from both intact taste systems and after unilateral chorda-lingual nerve transection. Fungiform taste buds were visualized and measured with the aid of cytokeratin 8. In control mice, taste buds were smaller and more abundant on the anterior tip (<1 mm) of the tongue. By 5 days after nerve transection taste buds were smaller and fewer on the side of the tongue ipsilateral to the transection and continued to decrease in both size and number until 15 days posttransection. Degenerating fungiform taste buds were smaller due to a loss of taste bud cells rather than changes in taste bud morphology. While almost all taste buds disappeared in more posterior fungiform papillae by 15 days posttransection, the anterior tip of the tongue retained nearly half of its taste buds compared to intact mice. Surviving taste buds could not be explained by an apparent innervation from the remaining intact nerves. Contralateral effects of nerve transection were also observed; taste buds were larger due to an increase in the number of taste bud cells. These data are the first to characterize adult mouse fungiform taste buds and subsequent degeneration after unilateral nerve transection. They provide the basis for more mechanistic studies in which genetically engineered mice can be used.
PMCID: PMC2811721  PMID: 17626272
receptor cells; gustation; axotomy; cyokeratin; neurofilament
22.  FGF Signaling Regulates the Number of Posterior Taste Papillae by Controlling Progenitor Field Size 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(6):e1002098.
The sense of taste is fundamental to our ability to ingest nutritious substances and to detect and avoid potentially toxic ones. Sensory taste buds are housed in papillae that develop from epithelial placodes. Three distinct types of gustatory papillae reside on the rodent tongue: small fungiform papillae are found in the anterior tongue, whereas the posterior tongue contains the larger foliate papillae and a single midline circumvallate papilla (CVP). Despite the great variation in the number of CVPs in mammals, its importance in taste function, and its status as the largest of the taste papillae, very little is known about the development of this structure. Here, we report that a balance between Sprouty (Spry) genes and Fgf10, which respectively antagonize and activate receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK) signaling, regulates the number of CVPs. Deletion of Spry2 alone resulted in duplication of the CVP as a result of an increase in the size of the placode progenitor field, and Spry1−/−;Spry2−/− embryos had multiple CVPs, demonstrating the redundancy of Sprouty genes in regulating the progenitor field size. By contrast, deletion of Fgf10 led to absence of the CVP, identifying FGF10 as the first inductive, mesenchyme-derived factor for taste papillae. Our results provide the first demonstration of the role of epithelial-mesenchymal FGF signaling in taste papilla development, indicate that regulation of the progenitor field size by FGF signaling is a critical determinant of papilla number, and suggest that the great variation in CVP number among mammalian species may be linked to levels of signaling by the FGF pathway.
Author Summary
The sense of taste is important for an animal's ability to survive and thrive, because it enables discrimination between nutritious substances and toxins. Taste buds are housed largely on the tongue in structures called papillae; of the three types of gustatory papillae, the circumvallate papilla (CVP) is the largest. In rodents, a single CVP is located in the posterior midline of the tongue housing hundreds of taste buds, whereas in other mammals up to dozens of CVPs can be found. However, despite the great variation in the number of CVPs in mammals, its status as the largest of the taste papillae, and its importance in taste function, very little is known about its development. We identified members of the FGF signaling pathway as determinants of CVP number. We propose that perturbations to the FGF signaling pathway may have been involved in the dramatic differences in CVP number that arose during mammalian evolution.
PMCID: PMC3107195  PMID: 21655085
23.  Distribution and characterization of functional amiloride-sensitive sodium channels in rat tongue 
The Journal of General Physiology  1996;107(4):545-554.
The role of amiloride-sensitive Na+ channels (ASSCs) in the transduction of salty taste stimuli in rat fungiform taste buds has been well established. Evidence for the involvement of ASSCs in salt transduction in circumvallate and foliate taste buds is, at best, contradictory. In an attempt to resolve this apparent controversy, we have begun to look for functional ASSCs in taste buds isolated from fungiform, foliate, and circumvallate papillae of male Sprague-Dawley rats. By use of a combination of whole-cell and nystatin-perforated patch-clamp recording, cells within the taste bud that exhibited voltage-dependent currents, reflective of taste receptor cells (TRCs), were subsequently tested for amiloride sensitivity. TRCs were held at - 70 mV, and steady-state current and input resistance were monitored during superfusion of Na(+)-free saline and salines containing amiloride (0.1 microM to 1 mM). Greater than 90% of all TRCs from each of the papillae responded to Na+ replacement with a decrease in current and an increase in input resistance, reflective of a reduction in electrogenic Na+ movement into the cell. ASSCs were found in two thirds of fungiform and in one third of foliate TRCs, whereas none of the circumvallate TRCs was amiloride sensitive. These findings indicate that the mechanism for Na+ influx differs among taste bud types. All amiloride-sensitive currents had apparent inhibition constants in the submicromolar range. These results agree with afferent nerve recordings and raise the possibility that the extensive labeling of the ASSC protein and mRNA in the circumvallate papillae may reflect a pool of nonfunctional channels or a pool of channels that lacks sensitivity to amiloride.
PMCID: PMC2217005  PMID: 8722566
24.  Fate mapping of mammalian embryonic taste bud progenitors 
Development (Cambridge, England)  2009;136(9):1519-1528.
Mammalian taste buds have properties of both epithelial and neuronal cells, and are thus developmentally intriguing. Taste buds differentiate at birth within epithelial appendages, termed taste papillae, which arise at mid-gestation as epithelial thickenings or placodes. However, the embryonic relationship between placodes, papillae and adult taste buds has not been defined. Here, using an inducible Cre-lox fate mapping approach with the ShhcreERT2 mouse line, we demonstrate that Shh-expressing embryonic taste placodes are taste bud progenitors, which give rise to at least two different adult taste cell types, but do not contribute to taste papillae. Strikingly, placodally descendant taste cells disappear early in adult life. As placodally derived taste cells are lost, we used Wnt1Cre mice to show that the neural crest does not supply cells to taste buds, either embryonically or postnatally, thus ruling out a mesenchymal contribution to taste buds. Finally, using Bdnf null mice, which lose neurons that innervate taste buds, we demonstrate that Shh-expressing taste bud progenitors are specified and produce differentiated taste cells normally, in the absence of gustatory nerve contact. This resolution of a direct relationship between embryonic taste placodes with adult taste buds, which is independent of mesenchymal contribution and nerve contact, allows us to better define the early development of this important sensory system. These studies further suggest that mammalian taste bud development is very distinct from that of other epithelial appendages.
PMCID: PMC2674259  PMID: 19363153
Taste bud development; CreER; Shh; Wnt1Cre; Bdnf; Genetic inducible; Fate mapping; Tamoxifen; Mouse
25.  Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide–Null Mice Demonstrate Enhanced Sweet Taste Preference, Dysglycemia, and Reduced Taste Bud Leptin Receptor Expression 
Diabetes  2010;59(5):1143-1152.
It is becoming apparent that there is a strong link between taste perception and energy homeostasis. Recent evidence implicates gut-related hormones in taste perception, including glucagon-like peptide 1 and vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP). We used VIP knockout mice to investigate VIP's specific role in taste perception and connection to energy regulation.
Body weight, food intake, and plasma levels of multiple energy-regulating hormones were measured and pancreatic morphology was determined. In addition, the immunocytochemical profile of taste cells and gustatory behavior were examined in wild-type and VIP knockout mice.
VIP knockout mice demonstrate elevated plasma glucose, insulin, and leptin levels, with no islet β-cell number/topography alteration. VIP and its receptors (VPAC1, VPAC2) were identified in type II taste cells of the taste bud, and VIP knockout mice exhibit enhanced taste preference to sweet tastants. VIP knockout mouse taste cells show a significant decrease in leptin receptor expression and elevated expression of glucagon-like peptide 1, which may explain sweet taste preference of VIP knockout mice.
This study suggests that the tongue can play a direct role in modulating energy intake to correct peripheral glycemic imbalances. In this way, we could view the tongue as a sensory mechanism that is bidirectionally regulated and thus forms a bridge between available foodstuffs and the intricate hormonal balance in the animal itself.
PMCID: PMC2857894  PMID: 20150284

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