Some human blood group antigens are expressed by rodent epithelial cells at different stages of differentiation. Since adult taste cells are continually replaced throughout life, we investigated the expression of the H, B, A and Lewisb blood group determinants by cells of the rat fungiform, foliate and vallate papilae. We employed antibodies against the trisaccharide structures of the H, B, and A blood group antigens and against the Lewisb blood group epitope in studies of normal and denervated taste buds. The antibody against the H antigen reacted with the majority of cells in all taste buds and with cells in the spinous layer of the tongue epithelium. The B antigen was expressed by the majority of taste cells but not by other epithelial cells. The expression of the A antigen was significantly less in the fungiform taste buds than in the vallate or foliate taste buds. The A antigen was also abundantly expressed in the acini of the lingual salivary glands. The Lewis b epitope was expressed by a subset of cells in taste buds of the fungiform, foliate and vallate papillae. Taste buds are trophically dependent upon gustatory nerve innervation. Transection of the chorda tympani or the IXth nerve resulted in the loss of expression of these molecules from the gustatory epithelium, indicating that they are expressed only on differentiated taste cell. The blood group antigens are lactoseries carbohydrates; they are differentially expressed in developing cochlear hair cells and olfactory neurons and may play roles in cell-cell recognition, adhesion, and other interactions important in the developing nervous system. They could have similar functions in the taste and olfactory systems, where the receptors are continually renewed and new synapses between the receptors and their neural targets continually form. © 1994 Wiley-Liss, Inc.