ABSTRACT: To establish lingual receptive fields that are the basic unit of taste function, ganglion cells must extend neurites to peripheral and central targets and form connections. This symposium concerns developmental interactions between the geniculate, trigeminal and petrosal ganglia and peripheral taste organs, the gustatory papillae and resident taste buds. Investigators present data from organ and tissue culture, from mice with targeted gene deletions and from grafting experiments, in pursuit of principles that direct early innervation of the taste system. The lingual ganglia and the taste papillae initially develop independently, but then become reciprocally dependent as ganglia derive neurotrophin support from gustatory papillae and the papillae require sensory innervation for growth and morphogenesis. The issue of subsequent taste bud induction is discussed with results from amphibian and mammalian models, yielding conclusions that are not yet totally convergent. However, an essential role for sensory innervation in mammalian taste bud differentiation and acquisition of appropriate quantitative relations between ganglion cells and target organs is clearly demonstrated. A working outline is presented for periods of ganglion cell/target organ independence and interdependence during early innervation of the peripheral taste system.