A sour taste sensation may be produced when acidic stimuli interact with taste receptor cells (TRCs) on the dorsal surface of the tongue. We have searched for pathways in TRCs that may be activated by acidic stimuli using RT-PCR and changes in intracellular calcium (Ca(2+)(I)) induced by acidic stimuli in rat fungiform papillae. RT-PCR revealed the presence of proton-gated subunits ASIC-beta and VR1. Ca(2+) imaging measurements of the TRCs revealed two distinct responses to acidic stimuli: Ca(2+)(i) was increased in 9% (28/308; Type I) and was decreased in 39% (121/308; Type II). Neither of these responses was affected by the removal of extracellular Ca(2+), indicating that the changes arise from the release and sequestration of Ca(2+) from intracellular stores. These responses were also not inhibited by the vanilloid receptor antagonist, capsazepine, suggesting they do not arise from the activation of vanilloid receptors. The Type I, but not the Type II response was inhibited by amiloride. Dose-response measurements for Types I and II responses yielded pH(50%) of 4.8 and 4.9, respectively. Type II responses were inhibited by pertussis toxin, suggesting G-protein involvement. TRCs that exhibit Type II responses could also be activated by quinine (which increased Ca(2+)(I)) thus suggesting a mechanism by which the addition of acid may be suppressive to other chemical stimuli.