From rat circumvallate papillae a novel phospholipase C (PLC) subtype has been cloned and identified as most closely related to human PLC beta2. The corresponding mRNA was only detected in sensory lingual tissue but not in non-taste lingual tissue or any other tissues examined by Northern blot analysis. In situ hybridization revealed that a subset of taste receptor cells of circumvallate papillae was specifically labeled. A functional involvement of this PLC beta subtype in taste signal transduction emerged from biochemical analysis monitoring the second messenger response in circumvallate preparations induced by denatonium benzoate. This bitter agent elicited a rapid and transient increase of the inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate level; this response was blocked by U73122, a potent inhibitor of PLC, and by PLC beta2-specific antibodies. These data indicate that a phospholipase C beta2 isoform mediates a denatonium benzoate-induced second messenger response of taste sensory cells in the circumvallate papillae.