The differentiated taste bud is a complex end organ consisting of multiple cell types with various morphological, immunocytochemical and electrophysiological characteristics. Individual taste cells have a limited lifespan and are regularly replaced by a proliferative basal cell population. The specific factors contributing to the maintenance of a differentiated taste bud are largely unknown. Supporting isolated taste buds in culture would allow controlled investigation of factors relevant to taste bud survival. Here we describe the culture and maintenance of isolated rat taste buds at room temperature and at 37 degrees C. Differentiated taste buds can be sustained for up to 14 days at room temperature and for 3-4 days at 37 degrees C. Over these periods individual cells within the cultured buds maintain an elongated morphology. Further, the taste cells remain electrically excitable and retain various proteins indicative of a differentiated phenotype. Despite the apparent health of differentiated taste cells, cell division occurs for only a short period following plating, suggesting that proliferating cells in the taste bud are quickly affected by isolation and culture.