Mammalian taste buds have properties of both epithelial and neuronal cells, and are thus developmentally intriguing. Taste buds differentiate at birth within epithelial appendages, termed taste papillae, which arise at mid-gestation as epithelial thickenings or placodes. However, the embryonic relationship between placodes, papillae and adult taste buds has not been defined. Here, using an inducible Cre-lox fate mapping approach with the ShhcreERT2 mouse line, we demonstrate that Shh-expressing embryonic taste placodes are taste bud progenitors, which give rise to at least two different adult taste cell types, but do not contribute to taste papillae. Strikingly, placodally descendant taste cells disappear early in adult life. As placodally derived taste cells are lost, we used Wnt1Cre mice to show that the neural crest does not supply cells to taste buds, either embryonically or postnatally, thus ruling out a mesenchymal contribution to taste buds. Finally, using Bdnf null mice, which lose neurons that innervate taste buds, we demonstrate that Shh-expressing taste bud progenitors are specified and produce differentiated taste cells normally, in the absence of gustatory nerve contact. This resolution of a direct relationship between embryonic taste placodes with adult taste buds, which is independent of mesenchymal contribution and nerve contact, allows us to better define the early development of this important sensory system. These studies further suggest that mammalian taste bud development is very distinct from that of other epithelial appendages
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