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Dev Dyn. 2002 Apr;223(4):483-96.

Taste bud development in the zebrafish, Danio rerio.

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Zoological Institute, University of Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany.


Taste buds are chemosensory endorgans consisting of modified epithelial cells. Fish and other vertebrates use their taste bud cells to sample potential food, either selecting or rejecting substances according to their edibility. The adult gustatory system in fish has been studied thoroughly, including regeneration experiments. Taste buds occur in the epithelia of the lips, the mouth cavity, the oropharyngeal cavity, and also in the skin of the barbels, the head, and sometimes even all over the body surface. Despite its importance for feeding, little is known about the ontogeny of the fish taste system. We examined the development of taste buds in the zebrafish on the light microscopical and the scanning and transmission electron microscopical levels. Taste buds develop later than the olfactory organ and the solitary chemosensory cells, two other chemosensory systems in aquatic vertebrates. The first few taste bud primordia are visible within the epithelia of lips and gill arches 3 to 4 days after fertilization, and the first few taste buds with open receptor areas appear on the lips and simultaneously on the gill arches 4-5 days after fertilization, which coincides with the onset of feeding. Taste buds in the mouth cavity, on the head, and on the barbels are formed later in development. As seen in other fish, zebrafish taste buds contain elongate dark and light cells, termed according to their electron density. Dark cells with a cell apex of many short microvilli appear first, followed by the light cells with one large microvillus. In addition, the zebrafish has a third fusiform cell type, which appears last. This cell type is low in electron density and has a brush-like apical ending with several small microvilli. This cell type has not been described previously. Furthermore, in zebrafish, the ontogenetic processes of taste bud formation differ from regenerative processes described in the literature.

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