• adult stem cell;
  • circadian rhythm;
  • gustation;
  • label-retaining cell;
  • sensory nervous system


Adult taste buds are maintained by the lifelong proliferation of epithelial stem and progenitor cells, the identities of which have remained elusive. It has been proposed that these cells reside either within the taste bud (intragemmal) or in the surrounding epithelium (perigemmal). Here, we apply three different in vivo approaches enabling single-cell resolution of proliferative history to identify putative stem and progenitor cells associated with adult mouse taste buds. Experiments were performed across the circadian peak in oral epithelial proliferation (04:00 h), a time period in which mitotic activity in taste buds has not yet been detailed. Using double label pulse-chase experiments, we show that defined intragemmal cells (taste and basal) and perigemmal cells undergo rapid, sequential cell divisions and thus represent potential progenitor cells. Strikingly, mitotic activity was observed in taste cells previously thought to be postmitotic (labelled cells occur in 30% of palatal taste buds after 1 h of BrdU exposure). Basal cells showed expression of the transcription factor p63, required for maintaining the self-renewal potential of various epithelial stem cell types. Candidate taste stem cells were identified almost exclusively as basal cells using the label-retaining cell approach to localize slow-cycling cells (0.06 ± 0.01 cells per taste bud; = 436 taste buds). Together, these results indicate that both stem- and progenitor-like cells reside within the mammalian taste bud.