Gli3 is a negative regulator of Tas1r3-expressing taste cells

PLoS Genet. 2018 Feb 7;14(2):e1007058. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1007058. eCollection 2018 Feb.


Mouse taste receptor cells survive from 3-24 days, necessitating their regeneration throughout adulthood. In anterior tongue, sonic hedgehog (SHH), released by a subpopulation of basal taste cells, regulates transcription factors Gli2 and Gli3 in stem cells to control taste cell regeneration. Using single-cell RNA-Seq we found that Gli3 is highly expressed in Tas1r3-expressing taste receptor cells and Lgr5+ taste stem cells in posterior tongue. By PCR and immunohistochemistry we found that Gli3 was expressed in taste buds in all taste fields. Conditional knockout mice lacking Gli3 in the posterior tongue (Gli3CKO) had larger taste buds containing more taste cells than did control wild-type (Gli3WT) mice. In comparison to wild-type mice, Gli3CKO mice had more Lgr5+ and Tas1r3+ cells, but fewer type III cells. Similar changes were observed ex vivo in Gli3CKO taste organoids cultured from Lgr5+ taste stem cells. Further, the expression of several taste marker and Gli3 target genes was altered in Gli3CKO mice and/or organoids. Mirroring these changes, Gli3CKO mice had increased lick responses to sweet and umami stimuli, decreased lick responses to bitter and sour taste stimuli, and increased glossopharyngeal taste nerve responses to sweet and bitter compounds. Our results indicate that Gli3 is a suppressor of stem cell proliferation that affects the number and function of mature taste cells, especially Tas1r3+ cells, in adult posterior tongue. Our findings shed light on the role of the Shh pathway in adult taste cell regeneration and may help devise strategies for treating taste distortions from chemotherapy and aging.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics
  • Cell Proliferation / genetics
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Down-Regulation / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / physiology*
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / genetics*
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / metabolism
  • Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Stem Cells / physiology
  • Taste Buds / cytology
  • Taste Buds / metabolism*
  • Tongue / cytology
  • Tongue / metabolism
  • Zinc Finger Protein Gli3 / physiology*


  • Gli3 protein, mouse
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled
  • Zinc Finger Protein Gli3
  • taste receptors, type 1