The tongue is an elaborate complex of heterogeneous tissues with taste organs of diverse embryonic origins. The lingual taste organs are papillae, composed of an epithelium that includes specialized taste buds, the basal lamina, and a lamina propria core with matrix molecules, fibroblasts, nerves, and vessels. Because taste organs are dynamic in cell biology and sensory function, homeostasis requires tight regulation in specific compartments or niches. Recently, the Hedgehog (Hh) pathway has emerged as an essential regulator that maintains lingual taste papillae, taste bud and progenitor cell proliferation and differentiation, and neurophysiological function. Activating or suppressing Hh signaling, with genetic models or pharmacological agents used in cancer treatments, disrupts taste papilla and taste bud integrity and can eliminate responses from taste nerves to chemical stimuli but not to touch or temperature. Understanding Hh regulation of taste organ homeostasis contributes knowledge about the basic biology underlying taste disruptions in patients treated with Hh pathway inhibitors.


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