2006 Volume 69 Issue 4 Pages 209-225
Mammalian taste buds are maintained through continuous cell renewal so that taste bud cells are constantly generated from progenitor cells throughout life. Taste bud cells are composed of basal cells and elongated cells. Elongated cells are derived from basal cells and contain taste receptor cells (TRC). Morphologically, elongated cells consist of three distinct types of cells: Types I, II and III. In contrast to the remarkable progress in understanding of the molecular basis for taste reception, the mechanisms of taste bud maintenance have remained a major area of inquiry. In this article, we review the expression of regulatory genes in taste buds and their involvement in taste bud cell differentiation. Three major topics include: 1) the Sonic hedgehog (Shh)-expressing cell in the basal cell in taste buds as a transient precursor of elongated cells and as a signal center for the proliferation of progenitor cells; 2) the Mash1-expressing cell as an immature cell state of both Type II and Type III cells and as a mature cell state of Type III cell; and 3) the nerve dependency of gene expression in taste buds. Problems in the application of NCAM for the type III cell marker are also discussed.