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date: 31 January 2023

Molecular Biology of Vertebrate Olfactory Receptors and Circuitslocked

Molecular Biology of Vertebrate Olfactory Receptors and Circuitslocked

  • Richard P. TuckerRichard P. TuckerSchool of Medicine, University of California Davis
  •  and Qizhi GongQizhi GongSchool of Medicine, University of California Davis


Animals use their olfactory system for the procurement of food, the detection of danger, and the identification of potential mates. In vertebrates, the olfactory sensory neuron has a single apical dendrite that is exposed to the environment and a single basal axon that projects to the central nervous system (i.e., the olfactory bulb). The first odorant receptors to be discovered belong to an enormous gene family encoding G protein-coupled seven transmembrane domain proteins. Odorant binding to these classical odorant receptors initiates a GTP-dependent signaling cascade that uses cAMP as a second messenger. Subsequently, additional types of odorant receptors using different signaling pathways have been identified. While most olfactory sensory neurons are found in the olfactory sensory neuroepithelium, others are found in specialized olfactory subsystems. In rodents, the vomeronasal organ contains neurons that recognize pheromones, the septal organ recognizes odorant and mechanical stimuli, and the neurons of the Grüneberg ganglion are sensitive to cool temperatures and certain volatile alarm signals. Within the olfactory sensory neuroepithelium, each sensory neuron expresses a single odorant receptor gene out of the large gene family; the axons of sensory neurons expressing the same odorant receptor typically converge onto a pair of glomeruli at the periphery of the olfactory bulb. This results in the transformation of olfactory information into a spatially organized odortopic map in the olfactory bulb. The axons originating from the vomeronasal organ project to the accessory olfactory bulb, whereas the axons from neurons in the Grüneberg ganglion project to 10 specific glomeruli found in the caudal part of the olfactory bulb. Within a glomerulus, the axons originating from olfactory sensory neurons synapse on the dendrites of olfactory bulb neurons, including mitral and tufted cells. Mitral cells and tufted cells in turn project directly to higher brain centers (e.g., the piriform cortex and olfactory tubercle). The integration of olfactory information in the olfactory cortices and elsewhere in the central nervous system informs and directs animal behavior.


  • Sensory Systems

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