Tuft cells are epithelial chemosensory cells with unique morphological and molecular characteristics, the most noticeable of which is a tuft of long and thick microvilli on their apical side, as well as expression of a very distinct set of genes, including genes encoding various members of the taste transduction machinery and pro-inflammatory cyclooxygenases. Initially discovered in rat trachea, tuft cells were gradually identified in various mucosal tissues, and later also in non-mucosal tissues, most recent of which is the thymus.
Although tuft cells were discovered more than 60 years ago, their functions in the various tissues remained a mystery until recent years. Today, tuft cells are thought to function as sensors of various types of chemical signals, to which they respond by secretion of diverse biological mediators such as IL25 or acetylcholine. Intestinal tuft cells were also shown to mediate type 2 immunity against parasites.
Here, we review the current knowledge on tuft cell characteristics, development and heterogeneity, discuss their potential functions and explore the possible implications and significance of their discovery in the thymus.