Over the past 50 years, hundreds of studies have described those cells that are characterized by a brush of rigid apical microvilli with long rootlets, and which are found in the digestive and respiratory apparatuses. These cells have been given names such as brush cells, tuft cells, fibrillovesicular cells, multivesicular cells and caveolated cells. More recently, it has been realized that all these elements may represent a single cell type, probably with a chemosensory role, even if other functions (e.g. secretory or absorptive) seem to be possible. Very recent developments have permitted a partial definition of the chemical code characterizing these elements, revealing the presence of molecules involved in chemoreceptorial cell signalling. A molecular cascade, similar to those characterizing the gustatory epithelium, seems to be present in these elements. These new data suggest that these elements can be considered solitary chemosensory cells with the presence of the apical 'brush' as an inconsistent feature. They seem to comprise a diffuse chemosensory system that covers large areas (probably the whole digestive and respiratory apparatuses) with analogies to chemosensory systems described in aquatic vertebrates.
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