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Keywords:

  • olfaction;
  • odorant;
  • olfactory receptor;
  • olfactory neuron;
  • G proteins;
  • cAMP;
  • calcium imaging

Abstract

The vertebrate olfactory system possesses a remarkable capacity to recognize and discriminate a variety of odorants by sending the coding information from peripheral olfactory sensory neurons in the olfactory epithelium to the olfactory bulb of the brain. The recognition of odorants appear to be mediated by a G protein-coupled receptor superfamily that consists of ∼1% of total genes in vertebrates. Since the first discovery of the olfactory receptor gene superfamily in the rat, similar chemosensory receptors have been found in various species across different phyla. The functions of these receptors, however, had been uncharacterized until the recently successful functional expression and ligand screening of some olfactory receptors in various cell expression systems. The functional cloning of odorant receptors from single olfactory neurons allowed for the identification of multiple receptors that recognized a particular odorant of interest. Reconstitution of the odorant responses demonstrated that odorant receptors recognized various structurally-related odorant molecules with a specific molecular receptive range, and that odor discrimination is established based on a combinatorial receptor code model in which the identities of different odorants are encoded by a combination of odorant receptors. The receptor code for an odorant changes at different odorant concentrations, consistent with our experience that perceived quality of an odorant changes at different concentrations. The molecular bases of odor discrimination at the level of olfactory receptors appear to correlate well with the receptive field in the olfactory bulb where the input signal is further processed to create the specific odor maps. Microsc. Res. Tech. 58:135–141, 2002. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.