Until recently, reliable markers for adult stem cells have been lacking for many regenerative mammalian tissues. Lgr5 (leucine-rich repeat-containing G-protein-coupled receptor 5) has been identified as a marker for adult stem cells in intestine, stomach, and hair follicle; Lgr5-expressing cells give rise to all types of cells in these tissues. Taste epithelium also regenerates constantly, yet the identity of adult taste stem cells remains elusive. In this study, we found that Lgr5 is strongly expressed in cells at the bottom of trench areas at the base of circumvallate (CV) and foliate taste papillae and weakly expressed in the basal area of taste buds and that Lgr5-expressing cells in posterior tongue are a subset of K14-positive epithelial cells. Lineage-tracing experiments using an inducible Cre knockin allele in combination with Rosa26-LacZ and Rosa26-tdTomato reporter strains showed that Lgr5-expressing cells gave rise to taste cells, perigemmal cells, along with self-renewing cells at the bottom of trench areas at the base of CV and foliate papillae. Moreover, using subtype-specific taste markers, we found that Lgr5-expressing cell progeny include all three major types of adult taste cells. Our results indicate that Lgr5 may mark adult taste stem or progenitor cells in the posterior portion of the tongue.
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