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Vol. 64, No. 3, 2004
Issue release date: September 2004
Brain Behav Evol 2004;64:198–206

Taste Buds: Development and Evolution

Northcutt R.G.
Neurobiology Unit, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Department of Neurosciences, School of Medicine, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, Calif., USA

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The gustatory system in vertebrates comprises peripheral receptors (taste buds), innervated by three cranial nerves (VII, IX, and X), and a series of central neural centers and pathways. All vertebrates, with the exception of hagfishes, have taste buds. These receptors vary morphologically in different vertebrates but usually consist of at least four types of cells (dark, light, basal, and stem cells). An out-group analysis indicates that taste buds were restricted to the oropharynx, primitively, and that external taste buds, distributed over the head and, in some cases, even the trunk, evolved a number of times independently. The sensory neurons of the cranial nerves that innervate taste buds are believed to arise from epibranchial placodes, which are induced by pharyngeal endoderm, but it has never been demonstrated experimentally that these sensory neurons do, in fact, arise from these placodes. Although many details of the development of the innervation of taste buds are still unknown, it is now clear that taste buds are induced from either ecto- or endodermal epithelia, rather than arising from either placodes or neural crest. At present, there are two developmental models of taste bud induction: The neural induction model claims that peripheral nerve fibers induce taste buds, whereas the early specification model claims that oropharyngeal epithelium is specified by or during gastrulation and that taste buds arise from cell-cell interactions within the specified epithelium. There is now substantial evidence that the early specification model best describes the induction of taste buds.

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