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Development. 1996 Apr;122(4):1103-11.

Embryonic taste buds develop in the absence of innervation.

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Department of Neurosciences, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla 92093, USA.


It has been hypothesized that taste buds are induced by contact with developing cranial nerve fibers late in embryonic development, since descriptive studies indicate that during embryonic development taste cell differentiation occurs concomitantly with or slightly following the advent of innervation. However, experimental evidence delineating the role of innervation in taste bud development is sparse and equivocal. Using two complementary experimental approaches, we demonstrate that taste cells differentiate fully in the complete absence of innervation. When the presumptive oropharyngeal region was taken from a donor axolotl embryo, prior to its innervation and development of taste buds, and grafted ectopically on to the trunk of a host embryo, the graft developed well-differentiated taste buds. Although grafts were invaded by branches of local spinal nerves, these neurites were rarely found near ectopic taste cells. When the oropharyngeal region was raised in culture, numerous taste buds were generated in the complete absence of neural elements. Taste buds in grafts and in explants were identical to those found in situ both in terms of their morphology and their expression of calretinin and serotonin immunoreactivity. Our findings indicate that innervation is not necessary for complete differentiation of taste receptor cells. We propose that taste buds are either induced in response to signals from other tissues, such as the neural crest, or arise independently through intrinsic patterning of the local epithelium.

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