In the vertebrate taste cell, heterotrimeric guanine nucleotide-binding proteins (G proteins) are involved in the transduction of both bitter and sweet taste stimulants. The bitter compound denatonium raises the intracellular Ca2+ concentration in rat taste cells, apparently via G protein-mediated increases in inositol trisphosphate. Sucrose causes a G protein-dependent generation of cAMP in rat taste bud membranes; elevation of cAMP levels leads to taste cell depolarization. To identify and characterize those proteins involved in the taste transduction process, we have cloned G protein alpha subunit (G alpha) cDNAs from rat taste cells. Using degenerate primers corresponding to conserved regions of G proteins, we used the polymerase chain reaction to amplify and clone taste cell G alpha cDNAs. Eight distinct G alpha cDNAs were isolated, cloned and sequenced from a taste cell library. Among these clones was alpha gustducin, a novel taste G alpha closely related to the transducins. In addition to alpha gustducin, we cloned rod and cone transducins from taste cells. This is the first identification of transducin expression outside photoreceptor cells. The primary sequence of alpha gustducin shows similarities to the transducins in the receptor interaction domain and the phosphodiesterase activation site. These sequence similarities suggest that gustducin and transducin regulate taste cell phosphodiesterase, probably in bitter taste transduction.