Separate populations of receptor cells and presynaptic cells in mouse taste buds

J Neurosci. 2006 Apr 12;26(15):3971-80. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0515-06.2006.


Taste buds are aggregates of 50-100 cells, only a fraction of which express genes for taste receptors and intracellular signaling proteins. We combined functional calcium imaging with single-cell molecular profiling to demonstrate the existence of two distinct cell types in mouse taste buds. Calcium imaging revealed that isolated taste cells responded with a transient elevation of cytoplasmic Ca2+ to either tastants or depolarization with KCl, but never both. Using single-cell reverse transcription (RT)-PCR, we show that individual taste cells express either phospholipase C beta2 (PLCbeta2) (an essential taste transduction effector) or synaptosomal-associated protein 25 (SNAP25) (a key component of calcium-triggered transmitter exocytosis). The two functional classes revealed by calcium imaging mapped onto the two gene expression classes determined by single-cell RT-PCR. Specifically, cells responding to tastants expressed PLCbeta2, whereas cells responding to KCl depolarization expressed SNAP25. We demonstrate this by two methods: first, through sequential calcium imaging and single-cell RT-PCR; second, by performing calcium imaging on taste buds in slices from transgenic mice in which PLCbeta2-expressing taste cells are labeled with green fluorescent protein. To evaluate the significance of the SNAP25-expressing cells, we used RNA amplification from single cells, followed by RT-PCR. We show that SNAP25-positive cells also express typical presynaptic proteins, including a voltage-gated calcium channel (alpha1A), neural cell adhesion molecule, synapsin-II, and the neurotransmitter-synthesizing enzymes glutamic acid decarboxylase and aromatic amino acid decarboxylase. No synaptic markers were detected in PLCbeta2 cells by either amplified RNA profiling or by immunocytochemistry. These data demonstrate the existence of at least two molecularly distinct functional classes of taste cells: receptor cells and synapse-forming cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium / physiology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Models, Animal
  • Potassium / pharmacology
  • Potassium Chloride / pharmacology
  • Presynaptic Terminals / drug effects
  • Presynaptic Terminals / physiology*
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / physiology
  • Sodium Chloride / pharmacology
  • Taste Buds / physiology*


  • Sodium Chloride
  • Potassium Chloride
  • Potassium
  • Calcium