Like other epithelial cells, taste bud cells have a short life span and undergo continuous turnover. An active stem or progenitor cell niche is essential for taste bud formation and maintenance. Early taste bud cells have a life span of ~4 days on average in chicken hatchlings when taste buds grow rapidly and undergo maturation. The average life span is shorter than that of mature taste bud cells of rodents (~10-12 days on average). To better understand the mechanism underlying taste bud growth and homeostasis in chickens, we analyzed the distribution of proliferating cells in different tissue compartments, including taste buds, the surrounding epithelium and the underlying connective tissue in post-hatch (P)1-3 hatchlings and P45 chickens. Unlike rodents, which lack proliferating cells within both early and mature taste buds, chickens possessed abundant proliferating cells within early taste buds. Further, at P45, when taste buds are mature and undergo continuous cell renewal, taste buds also contained proliferating cells, though to a lesser extent. These proliferating cells in early taste buds, indicated by PCNA+ and BrdU+ cells, primarily localized to the basal region of taste buds and were largely unlabeled by the two known molecular markers for chicken taste bud cells (Vimentin and α-Gustducin), suggesting their undifferentiated status. Our data indicate that early chicken taste buds have “built-in” progenitors in order to grow to and maintain their large size and rapid cell turnover in hatchlings.
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