Recent advances in peripheral taste physiology now suggest that the classic linear view of information processing within the taste bud is inadequate and that paracrine processing, although undemonstrated, may be an essential feature of peripheral gustatory transduction. Taste receptor cells (TRCs) express multiple neurotransmitters of unknown function that could potentially participate in a paracrine role. Serotonin is expressed in a subset of TRCs with afferent synapses; additionally, TRCs respond physiologically to serotonin. This study explored the expression and cellular localization of serotonin receptor subtypes in TRCs as a possible route of paracrine communication. RT-PCR was performed on RNA extracted from rat posterior taste buds with 14 prime sets representing 5-HT(1) through 5-HT(7) receptor subtype families. Data suggest that 5-HT(1A) and 5-HT(3) receptors are expressed in taste buds. Immunocytochemistry with a 5-HT(1A)-specific antibody demonstrated that subsets of TRCs were immunopositive for 5-HT(1A). With the use of double-labeling, serotonin- and 5-HT(1A)-immunopositive cells were observed exclusively in nonoverlapping populations. On the other hand, 5-HT(3)-immunopositive taste receptor cells were not observed. This observation, combined with other data, suggests 5-HT(3) is expressed in postsynaptic neural elements within the bud. We hypothesize that 5-HT release from TRCs activates postsynaptic 5-HT(3) receptors on afferent nerve fibers and, via a paracrine route, inhibits neighboring TRCs via 5-HT(1A) receptors. The ole of the 5-HT(1A)-expressing TRC within the taste bud remains to be explored.