Taste-receptor cells use distinct semaphorins to guide wiring of the peripheral taste system; targeted ectopic expression of SEMA3A or SEMA7A leads to bitter neurons responding to sweet tastes or sweet neurons responding to bitter tastes.
In mammals, taste buds typically contain 50-100 tightly packed taste-receptor cells (TRCs), representing all five basic qualities: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami1,2. Notably, mature taste cells have life spans of only 5-20 days and, consequently, are constantly replenished by differentiation of taste stem cells3. Given the importance of establishing and maintaining appropriate connectivity between TRCs and their partner ganglion neurons (that is, ensuring that a labelled line from sweet TRCs connects to sweet neurons, bitter TRCs to bitter neurons, sour to sour, and so on), we examined how new connections are specified to retain fidelity of signal transmission. Here we show that bitter and sweet TRCs provide instructive signals to bitter and sweet target neurons via different guidance molecules (SEMA3A and SEMA7A)4,5,6. We demonstrate that targeted expression of SEMA3A or SEMA7A in different classes of TRCs produces peripheral taste systems with miswired sweet or bitter cells. Indeed, we engineered mice with bitter neurons that now responded to sweet tastants, sweet neurons that responded to bitter or sweet neurons responding to sour stimuli. Together, these results uncover the basic logic of the wiring of the taste system at the periphery, and illustrate how a labelled-line sensory circuit preserves signalling integrity despite rapid and stochastic turnover of receptor cells.