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Concept: Olfactory receptor


Each person expresses a potentially unique subset of ∼400 different olfactory receptor subtypes. Given that the receptors we express partially determine the odors we smell, it follows that each person may have a unique nose; to capture this, we devised a sensitive test of olfactory perception we termed the “olfactory fingerprint.” Olfactory fingerprints relied on matrices of perceived odorant similarity derived from descriptors applied to the odorants. We initially fingerprinted 89 individuals using 28 odors and 54 descriptors. We found that each person had a unique olfactory fingerprint (P < 10(-10)), which was odor specific but descriptor independent. We could identify individuals from this pool using randomly selected sets of 7 odors and 11 descriptors alone. Extrapolating from this data, we determined that using 34 odors and 35 descriptors we could individually identify each of the 7 billion people on earth. Olfactory perception, however, fluctuates over time, calling into question our proposed perceptual readout of presumably stable genetic makeup. To test whether fingerprints remain informative despite this temporal fluctuation, building on the linkage between olfactory receptors and HLA, we hypothesized that olfactory perception may relate to HLA. We obtained olfactory fingerprints and HLA typing for 130 individuals, and found that olfactory fingerprint matching using only four odorants was significantly related to HLA matching (P < 10(-4)), such that olfactory fingerprints can save 32% of HLA tests in a population screen (P < 10(-6)). In conclusion, a precise measure of olfactory perception reveals meaningful nonolfactory genetic information.

Concepts: Receptor, Sense, Olfaction, Olfactory receptor, Odor, Aroma compound, Fingerprint, Body odor


In mammals, odorants are detected by a large family of receptors that are each expressed in just a small subset of olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs). Here we describe a strain of transgenic mice engineered to express an octanal receptor in almost all OSNs. Remarkably, octanal triggered a striking and involuntary phenotype in these animals, with passive exposure regularly inducing seizures. Octanal exposure invariably resulted in widespread activation of OSNs but interestingly seizures only occurred in 30-40% of trials. We hypothesized that this reflects the need for the olfactory system to filter strong but slowly-changing backgrounds from salient signals. Therefore we used an olfactometer to control octanal delivery and demonstrated suppression of responses whenever this odorant is delivered slowly. By contrast, rapid exposure of the mice to octanal induced seizure in every trial. Our results expose new details of olfactory processing and provide a robust and non-invasive platform for studying epilepsy.

Concepts: Sensory system, Olfactory receptor neuron, Olfaction, Epilepsy, Olfactory receptor, Seizure, Odor, Sensory neuron


Olfactory receptors (ORs) are G protein-coupled receptors which serve important sensory functions beyond their role as odorant detectors in the olfactory epithelium. Here we describe a novel role for one of these ORs, Olfr1393, as a regulator of renal glucose handling. Olfr1393 is specifically expressed in the kidney proximal tubule, which is the site of renal glucose reabsorption. Olfr1393 knockout mice exhibit urinary glucose wasting and improved glucose tolerance, despite euglycemia and normal insulin levels. Consistent with this phenotype, Olfr1393 knockout mice have a significant decrease in luminal expression of Sglt1, a key renal glucose transporter, uncovering a novel regulatory pathway involving Olfr1393 and Sglt1. In addition, by utilizing a large scale screen of over 1400 chemicals we reveal the ligand profile of Olfr1393 for the first time, offering new insight into potential pathways of physiological regulation for this novel signaling pathway.

Concepts: Kidney, Signal transduction, Insulin, Glucose, Receptor, Renal physiology, Olfactory receptor neuron, Olfactory receptor


In the nasal olfactory epithelium, olfactory metabolic enzymes ensure odorant clearance from the olfactory receptor environment. This biotransformation of odorants into deactivated polar metabolites is critical to maintaining peripheral sensitivity and perception. Olfactory stimuli consist of complex mixtures of odorants, so binding interactions likely occur at the enzyme level and may impact odor processing. Here, we used the well-described model of mammary pheromone-induced sucking-related behavior in rabbit neonates. It allowed to demonstrate how the presence of different aldehydic odorants efficiently affects the olfactory metabolism of this pheromone (an aldehyde too: 2-methylbut-2-enal). Indeed, according to in vitro and ex vivo measures, this metabolic interaction enhances the pheromone availability in the epithelium. Furthermore, in vivo presentation of the mammary pheromone at subthreshold concentrations efficiently triggers behavioral responsiveness in neonates when the pheromone is in mixture with a metabolic challenger odorant. These findings reveal that the periphery of the olfactory system is the place of metabolic interaction between odorants that may lead, in the context of odor mixture processing, to pertinent signal detection and corresponding behavioral effect.

Concepts: Enzyme, In vitro, Olfaction, Olfactory system, Olfactory receptor, Odor, Olfactory epithelium, Aroma compound


Cancer cells and non-cancer cells differ in their metabolism and they emit distinct volatile compound profiles, allowing to recognise cancer cells by their scent. Insect odorant receptors are excellent chemosensors with high sensitivity and a broad receptive range unmatched by current gas sensors. We thus investigated the potential of utilising the fruit fly’s olfactory system to detect cancer cells. Using in vivo calcium imaging, we recorded an array of olfactory receptor neurons on the fruit fly’s antenna. We performed multidimensional analysis of antenna responses, finding that cell volatiles from different cell types lead to characteristic response vectors. The distances between these response vectors are conserved across flies and can be used to discriminate healthy mammary epithelial cells from different types of breast cancer cells. This may expand the repertoire of clinical diagnostics, and it is the first step towards electronic noses equipped with biological sensors, integrating artificial and biological olfaction.

Concepts: Signal transduction, Olfactory receptor neuron, Olfaction, Olfactory system, Olfactory receptor, Antenna, Linda B. Buck, Richard Axel


We investigated the sensitivity of single olfactory receptor cells to 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA), a compound known for causing cork taint in wines. Such off-flavors have been thought to originate from unpleasant odor qualities evoked by contaminants. However, we here show that TCA attenuates olfactory transduction by suppressing cyclic nucleotide-gated channels, without evoking odorant responses. Surprisingly, suppression was observed even at extremely low (i.e., attomolar) TCA concentrations. The high sensitivity to TCA was associated with temporal integration of the suppression effect. We confirmed that potent suppression by TCA and similar compounds was correlated with their lipophilicity, as quantified by the partition coefficient at octanol/water boundary (pH 7.4), suggesting that channel suppression is mediated by a partitioning of TCA into the lipid bilayer of plasma membranes. The rank order of suppression matched human recognition of off-flavors: TCA equivalent to 2,4,6-tribromoanisole, which is much greater than 2,4,6-trichlorophenol. Furthermore, TCA was detected in a wide variety of foods and beverages surveyed for odor losses. Our findings demonstrate a potential molecular mechanism for the reduction of flavor.

Concepts: Signal transduction, Cell membrane, Olfactory receptor neuron, Olfaction, Chemical compound, Olfactory receptor, Odor, Aroma compound


The influence of fragrances such as perfumes and room fresheners on the psychophysiological activities of humans has been known for a long time, and its significance is gradually increasing in the medicinal and cosmetic industries. A fragrance consists of volatile chemicals with a molecular weight of less than 300 Da that humans perceive through the olfactory system. In humans, about 300 active olfactory receptor genes are devoted to detecting thousands of different fragrance molecules through a large family of olfactory receptors of a diverse protein sequence. The sense of smell plays an important role in the physiological effects of mood, stress, and working capacity. Electrophysiological studies have revealed that various fragrances affected spontaneous brain activities and cognitive functions, which are measured by an electroencephalograph (EEG). The EEG is a good temporal measure of responses in the central nervous system and it provides information about the physiological state of the brain both in health and disease. The EEG power spectrum is classified into different frequency bands such as delta (0.5-4 Hz), theta (4-8 Hz), alpha (8-13 Hz), beta (13-30 Hz) and gamma (30-50 Hz), and each band is correlated with different features of brain states. A quantitative EEG uses computer software to provide the topographic mapping of the brain activity in frontal, temporal, parietal and occipital brain regions. It is well known that decreases of alpha and beta activities and increases of delta and theta activities are associated with brain pathology and general cognitive decline. In the last few decades, many scientific studies were conducted to investigate the effect of inhalation of aroma on human brain functions. The studies have suggested a significant role for olfactory stimulation in the alteration of cognition, mood, and social behavior. This review aims to evaluate the available literature regarding the influence of fragrances on the psychophysiological activities of humans with special reference to EEG changes.

Concepts: Central nervous system, Nervous system, Psychology, Brain, Human brain, Electroencephalography, Olfaction, Olfactory receptor


The sophisticated organization of eusocial insect societies is largely based on the regulation of complex behaviors by hydrocarbon pheromones present on the cuticle. We used electrophysiology to investigate the detection of cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs) by female-specific olfactory sensilla basiconica on the antenna of Camponotus floridanus ants through the utilization of one of the largest family of odorant receptors characterized so far in insects. These sensilla, each of which contains multiple olfactory receptor neurons, are differentially sensitive to CHCs and allow them to be classified into three broad groups that collectively detect every hydrocarbon tested, including queen and worker-enriched CHCs. This broad-spectrum sensitivity is conserved in a related species, Camponotus laevigatus, allowing these ants to detect CHCs from both nestmates and non-nestmates. Behavioral assays demonstrate that these ants are excellent at discriminating CHCs detected by the antenna, including enantiomers of a candidate queen pheromone that regulates the reproductive division of labor.

Concepts: Signal transduction, Insect, Arthropod, Olfactory receptor neuron, Olfactory receptor, Ant, Hymenoptera, Termite


Flies, like all animals, need to find suitable and safe food. Because the principal food source for Drosophila melanogaster is yeast growing on fermenting fruit, flies need to distinguish fruit with safe yeast from yeast covered with toxic microbes. We identify a functionally segregated olfactory circuit in flies that is activated exclusively by geosmin. This microbial odorant constitutes an ecologically relevant stimulus that alerts flies to the presence of harmful microbes. Geosmin activates only a single class of sensory neurons expressing the olfactory receptor Or56a. These neurons target the DA2 glomerulus and connect to projection neurons that respond exclusively to geosmin. Activation of DA2 is sufficient and necessary for aversion, overrides input from other olfactory pathways, and inhibits positive chemotaxis, oviposition, and feeding. The geosmin detection system is a conserved feature in the genus Drosophila that provides flies with a sensitive, specific means of identifying unsuitable feeding and breeding sites. PAPERFLICK:

Concepts: Bacteria, Organism, Olfactory receptor neuron, Olfactory system, Olfactory receptor, Microorganism, Drosophila melanogaster, Drosophila


Several studies have demonstrated the expression of odorant receptors (OR) in various human tissues and their involvement in different physiological and pathophysiological processes. However, the functional role of ORs in the human heart is still unclear. Here, we firstly report the functional characterization of an OR in the human heart. Initial next-generation sequencing analysis revealed the OR expression pattern in the adult and fetal human heart and identified the fatty acid-sensing OR51E1 as the most highly expressed OR in both cardiac development stages. An extensive characterization of the OR51E1 ligand profile by luciferase reporter gene activation assay identified 2-ethylhexanoic acid as a receptor antagonist and various structurally related fatty acids as novel OR51E1 ligands, some of which were detected at receptor-activating concentrations in plasma and epicardial adipose tissue. Functional investigation of the endogenous receptor was carried out by Ca(2+) imaging of human stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes. Application of OR51E1 ligands induced negative chronotropic effects that depended on activation of the OR. OR51E1 activation also provoked a negative inotropic action in cardiac trabeculae and slice preparations of human explanted ventricles. These findings indicate that OR51E1 may play a role as metabolic regulator of cardiac function.

Concepts: Blood, Heart, Muscle, Cardiac muscle, Receptor, Circulatory system, Receptor antagonist, Olfactory receptor