Although inflammatory responses are a critical component in defense against pathogens, too much inflammation is harmful. Mechanisms have evolved to regulate inflammation, including modulation by the anti-inflammatory cytokine interleukin-10 (IL-10). Previously we have shown that taste buds express various molecules involved in innate immune responses, including the proinflammatory cytokine tumor necrosis factor (TNF). Here, using a reporter mouse strain, we show that taste cells also express the anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10. Remarkably, IL-10 is produced by only a specific subset of taste cells, which are different from the TNF-producing cells in mouse circumvallate and foliate taste buds: IL-10 expression was found exclusively in the G-protein gustducin-expressing bitter receptor cells, while TNF was found in sweet and umami receptor cells as reported previously. In contrast, IL-10R1, the ligand-binding subunit of the IL-10 receptor, is predominantly expressed by TNF-producing cells, suggesting a novel cellular hierarchy for regulating TNF production and effects in taste buds. In response to inflammatory challenges, taste cells can increase IL-10 expression both in vivo and in vitro. These findings suggest that taste buds use separate populations of taste receptor cells that coincide with sweet/umami and bitter taste reception to modulate local inflammatory responses, a phenomenon that has not been previously reported. Furthermore, IL-10 deficiency in mice leads to significant reductions in the number and size of taste buds, as well as in the number of taste receptor cells per taste bud, suggesting that IL-10 plays critical roles in maintaining structural integrity of the peripheral gustatory system.
Keywords: cytokines; inflammation; taste buds.