Mammals can perceive and discriminate myriad volatile chemicals as having a distinct odor. Odorants are initially detected by odorant receptors (ORs) on olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) in the nose. In the mouse, each OSN expresses one of ∼1000 different OR genes. Although OSNs and their expressed ORs constitute the fundamental units of sensory input to the brain, a comprehensive understanding of how they encode odor identities is still lacking. To gain a broader and more detailed understanding of odorant recognition and odor coding at this level, we tested the responses of 3000 mouse OSNs to 125 odorants with diverse structures and perceived odors. These studies revealed extraordinary diversity, but also bias, in odorant recognition by the OSN, and thus OR, repertoire. They indicate that most OSNs are narrowly tuned to detect a subset of odorants with related structures and often related odors, but that the repertoire also includes broadly tuned components. Strikingly, the vast majority of odorants activated a unique set of OSNs, usually two or more in combination. The resulting combinatorial codes varied in size among odorants and sometimes contained both narrowly and broadly tuned components. While many OSNs recognized multiple odorants, some appeared specific for a given pheromone or other animal-associated compound, or for one or more odorants with a particular odor quality, raising the possibility that signals derived from some OSNs and ORs might elicit an innate behavior or convey a specific odor quality.
The mammalian nose employs several olfactory subsystems to recognize and transduce diverse chemosensory stimuli. These subsystems differ in their anatomical position within the nasal cavity, their targets in the olfactory forebrain, and the transduction mechanisms they employ. Here we report that they can also differ in the strategies they use for stimulus coding. Necklace glomeruli are the sole main olfactory bulb (MOB) targets of an olfactory sensory neuron (OSN) subpopulation distinguished by its expression of the receptor guanylyl cyclase GC-D and the phosphodiesterase PDE2, and by its chemosensitivity to the natriuretic peptides uroguanylin and guanylin and the gas CO2. In stark contrast to the homogeneous sensory innervation of canonical MOB glomeruli from OSNs expressing the same odorant receptor (OR), we find that each necklace glomerulus of the mouse receives heterogeneous innervation from at least two distinct sensory neuron populations: one expressing GC-D and PDE2, the other expressing olfactory marker protein. In the main olfactory system it is thought that odor identity is encoded by a combinatorial strategy and represented in the MOB by a pattern of glomerular activation. This combinatorial coding scheme requires functionally homogeneous sensory inputs to individual glomeruli by OSNs expressing the same OR and displaying uniform stimulus selectivity; thus, activity in each glomerulus reflects the stimulation of a single OSN type. The heterogeneous sensory innervation of individual necklace glomeruli by multiple, functionally distinct, OSN subtypes precludes a similar combinatorial coding strategy in this olfactory subsystem.
A common feature of chemosensory systems is the involvement of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) in the detection of environmental stimuli. Several lineages of GPCRs are involved in vertebrate olfaction, including trace amine-associated receptors, type 1 and 2 vomeronasal receptors and odorant receptors (ORs). Gene duplication and gene loss in different vertebrate lineages have lead to an enormous amount of variation in OR gene repertoire among species; some fish have fewer than 100 OR genes, while some mammals possess more than 1000. Fascinating features of the vertebrate olfactory system include allelic exclusion, where each olfactory neuron expresses only a single OR gene, and axonal guidance where neurons expressing the same receptor project axons to common glomerulae. By identifying homologous ORs in vertebrate and in non-vertebrate chordates, we hope to expose ancestral features of the chordate olfactory system that will help us to better understand the evolution of the receptors themselves and of the cellular components of the olfactory system.
We have identified 50 full-length and 11 partial ORs in Branchiostoma floridae. No ORs were identified in Ciona intestinalis. Phylogenetic analysis places the B. floridae OR genes in a monophyletic clade with the vertebrate ORs. The majority of OR genes in amphioxus are intronless and many are also tandemly arrayed in the genome. By exposing conserved amino acid motifs and testing the ability of those motifs to discriminate between ORs and non-OR GPCRs, we identified three OR-specific amino acid motifs common in cephalochordate, fish and mammalian and ORs.
Here, we show that amphioxus has orthologs of vertebrate ORs. This conclusion demonstrates that the receptors, and perhaps other components of vertebrate olfaction, evolved at least 550 million years ago. We have also identified highly conserved amino acid motifs that may be important for maintaining receptor conformation or regulating receptor activity. We anticipate that the identification of vertebrate OR orthologs in amphioxus will lead to an improved understanding of OR gene family evolution, OR gene function, and the mechanisms that control cell-specific expression, axonal guidance, signal transduction and signal integration.
Based on pharmacological studies of chemosensory transduction in transient receptor potential channel M5 (TRPM5) knockout mice it was hypothesized that this channel is involved in transduction for a subset of putative pheromones in mouse olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs). Yet, in the same study an electroolfactogram (EOG) in the mouse olfactory epithelium showed no significant difference in the responses to pheromones (and odors) between wild type and TRPM5 knockout mice. Here we show that the number of OSNs expressing TRPM5 is increased by unilateral naris occlusion. Importantly, EOG experiments show that mice lacking TRPM5 show a decreased response in the occluded epithelia to putative pheromones as opposed to wild type mice that show no change upon unilateral naris occlusion. This evidence indicates that under decreased olfactory sensory input TRPM5 plays a role in mediating putative pheromone transduction. Furthermore, we demonstrate that cyclic nucleotide gated channel A2 knockout (CNGA2-KO) mice that show substantially decreased or absent responses to odors and pheromones also have elevated levels of TRPM5 compared to wild type mice. Taken together, our evidence suggests that TRPM5 plays a role in mediating transduction for putative pheromones under conditions of reduced chemosensory input.
The olfactory system meets niche- and species-specific demands by an accelerated evolution of its odorant receptor repertoires. In this review, we describe evolutionary processes that have shaped olfactory and vomeronasal receptor gene families in vertebrate genomes. We emphasize three important periods in the evolution of the olfactory system evident by comparative genomics: the adaptation to land in amphibian ancestors, the decline of olfaction in primates, and the delineation of putative pheromone receptors concurrent with rodent speciation. The rapid evolution of odorant receptor genes, the sheer size of the repertoire, as well as their wide distribution in the genome, presents a developmental challenge: how are these ever-changing odorant receptor repertoires coordinated within the olfactory system? A central organizing principle in olfaction is the specialization of sensory neurons resulting from each sensory neuron expressing only ~one odorant receptor allele. In this review, we also discuss this mutually exclusive expression of odorant receptor genes. We have considered several models to account for co-regulation of odorant receptor repertoires, as well as discussed a new hypothesis that invokes important epigenetic properties of the system.
Antennal olfaction is extremely important for insect survival, mediating key behaviors such as host preference, mate choice, and oviposition site selection. Multiple antennal proteins are involved in olfactory signal transduction pathways. Of these, odorant receptors (ORs) and ionotropic receptors (IRs) confer specificity on olfactory sensory neuron responses. In this study, we identified the olfactory gene repertoire of the economically important agricultural pest moth, Helicoverpa armigera, by assembling the adult male and female antennal transcriptomes. Within the male and female antennal transcriptomes we identified a total of 47 OR candidate genes containing 6 pheromone receptor candidates. Additionally, 12 IR genes as well as 26 odorant-binding proteins and 12 chemosensory proteins were annotated. Our results allow a systematic functional analysis across much of conventional ORs repertoire and newly reported IRs mediating the key olfaction-mediated behaviors of H. armigera.
The recognition of odors is accomplished in the sensory epithelium where individual olfactory neurons express only one of 1,300 odorant receptor genes. Neurons expressing a given receptor project to two spatially invariant glomeruli in the olfactory bulb such that each odor elicits a distinct and sparse pattern of glomerular activity. We have altered the neural representation of odors in the brain by generating a mouse with a “monoclonal nose” in which greater than 95% of the sensory neurons express a single odorant receptor, M71. As a consequence, the frequency of sensory neurons expressing endogenous receptor genes is reduced twenty-fold. We observe that these mice can smell but odor discrimination and performance in associative olfactory learning tasks are impaired. However, these mice cannot detect the M71 ligand acetophenone despite the observation that virtually all sensory neurons and glomeruli are activated by this odor. The M71 transgenic mice readily detect other odors in the presence of acetophenone. These observations have implications for how receptor activation in the periphery is represented in the brain and how these representations encode odors.
Vertebrate odorant receptors comprise at least three types of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs): the OR, V1R, and V2R/V2R-like receptors, the latter group belonging to the C family of GPCRs. These receptor families are thought to receive chemosensory information from a wide spectrum of odorant and pheromonal cues that influence critical animal behaviors such as feeding, reproduction and other social interactions.
Using genome database mining and other informatics approaches, we identified and characterized the repertoire of 54 intact "V2R-like" olfactory C family GPCRs in the zebrafish. Phylogenetic analysis – which also included a set of 34 C family GPCRs from fugu – places the fish olfactory receptors in three major groups, which are related to but clearly distinct from other C family GPCRs, including the calcium sensing receptor, metabotropic glutamate receptors, GABA-B receptor, T1R taste receptors, and the major group of V2R vomeronasal receptor families. Interestingly, an analysis of sequence conservation and selective pressure in the zebrafish receptors revealed the retention of a conserved sequence motif previously shown to be required for ligand binding in other amino acid receptors.
Based on our findings, we propose that the repertoire of zebrafish olfactory C family GPCRs has evolved to allow the detection and discrimination of a spectrum of amino acid and/or amino acid-based compounds, which are potent olfactory cues in fish. Furthermore, as the major groups of fish receptors and mammalian V2R receptors appear to have diverged significantly from a common ancestral gene(s), these receptors likely mediate chemosensation of different classes of chemical structures by their respective organisms.
The repertoire of ~1200 odorant receptors (ORs) is mapped onto the array of ~1800 glomeruli in the mouse olfactory bulb (OB). The spatial organization of this array is influenced by the ORs. Here we show that glomerular mapping to broad domains in the dorsal OB is determined by two types of olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs), which reside in the dorsal olfactory epithelium. The OSN types express either Class I or Class II OR genes. Axons from the two OSN types segregate already within the olfactory nerve and form distinct domains of glomeruli in the OB. These class-specific anatomical domains correlate with known functional odorant response domains. However, axonal segregation and domain formation are not determined by the class of the expressed OR protein. Thus, the two OSN types are determinants of axonal wiring, operate at a higher level than ORs, and contribute to the functional organization of the glomerular array.
Olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) project their axons from the olfactory epithelium toward the olfactory bulb (OB) in a heterogeneous and unsorted arrangement. However, as the axons approach the glomerular layer of the OB, axons from OSNs expressing the same odorant receptor (OR) sort and converge to form molecularly homogeneous glomeruli. Axon guidance cues, cell adhesion molecules, and OR induced activity have been implicated in the final targeting of OSN axons to specific glomeruli. Less understood, and often controversial, are the mechanisms used by OSN axons to initially navigate from the OE toward the OB. We previously demonstrated a role for Wnt and Frizzled (Fz) molecules in OSN axon extension and organization within the olfactory nerve. Building on that we now turned our attention to the downstream signaling cascades from Wnt-Fz interactions. Dishevelled (Dvl) is a key molecule downstream of Fz receptors. Three isoforms of Dvl with specific as well as overlapping functions are found in mammals. Here, we show that Dvl-1 expression is restricted to OSNs in the dorsal recess of the nasal cavity, and labels a unique subpopulation of glomeruli. Dvl-2 and Dvl-3 have a widespread distribution in both the OE and OB. Both Dvl-1 and Dvl-2 are associated with intra-glomerular pre-synaptic OSN terminals, suggesting a role in synapse formation/stabilization. Moreover, because Dvl proteins were observed in all OSN axons, we hypothesize that they are important determinants of OSN cell differentiation and axon extension.
The sense of smell deteriorates in normal aging, but the underling mechanisms are still elusive. Here we investigated age-related alterations in expression patterns of odorant receptor (OR) genes and functional properties of olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs)—2 critical factors that define the odor detection threshold in the olfactory epithelium. Using in situ hybridization for 9 representative OR genes, we compared the cell densities of each OR in coronal nose sections at different ages (3–27 months). The cell density for different ORs peaked at different time points and a decline was observed for 6 of 9 ORs at advanced ages. Using patch clamp recordings, we then examined the odorant responses of individual OSNs coexpressing a defined OR (MOR23) and green fluorescent protein. The MOR23 neurons recorded from aged animals maintained a similar sensitivity and dynamic range in response to the cognate odorant (lyral) as those from younger mice. The results indicate that although the cell densities of OSNs expressing certain types of ORs decline at advanced ages, individual OSNs can retain their sensitivity. The implications of these findings in age-related olfactory deterioration are discussed.
aging; main olfactory epithelium; odorant responses; olfactory receptor; olfactory sensory neurons
The mammalian olfactory system is able to discriminate among tens of thousands of odorant molecules. In mice, each odorant is sensed by a small subset of the approximately 1,000 odorant receptor (OR) types, with one OR gene expressed by each olfactory sensory neuron (OSN). However, the sum of the large repertoire of OR/OSN types and difficulties with heterologous expression have made it almost impossible to analyze odorant responsiveness across all OR/OSN types. We have developed a microfluidic approach that allowed us to screen over 20,000 single cells at once in microwells. By using calcium imaging, we were able to detect and analyze odorant responses of about 2,900 OSNs simultaneously. Importantly, this technique allows for both the detection of rare responding OSNs as well as the identification of OSN populations broadly responsive to odorants of unrelated structures. This technique is generally applicable for screening large numbers of single cells and should help to characterize rare cell behaviors in fields such as toxicology, pharmacology, and cancer research.
Zonal organization is one of the characteristic features observed in both main and accessory olfactory systems. In the main olfactory system, most of the odorant receptors are classified into four groups according to their zonal expression patterns in the olfactory epithelium. Each group of odorant receptors is expressed by sensory neurons distributed within one of four circumscribed zones. Olfactory sensory neurons in a given zone of the epithelium project their axons to the glomeruli in a corresponding zone of the main olfactory bulb. Glomeruli in the same zone tend to represent similar odorant receptors having similar tuning specificity to odorants. Vomeronasal receptors (or pheromone receptors) are classified into two groups in the accessory olfactory system. Each group of receptors is expressed by vomeronasal sensory neurons in either the apical or basal zone of the vomeronasal epithelium. Sensory neurons in the apical zone project their axons to the rostral zone of the accessory olfactory bulb and form synaptic connections with mitral tufted cells belonging to the rostral zone. Signals originated from basal zone sensory neurons are sent to mitral tufted cells in the caudal zone of the accessory olfactory bulb. We discuss functional implications of the zonal organization in both main and accessory olfactory systems.
Survival of many altricial animals critically depends on the sense of smell. Curiously, the olfactory system is rather immature at birth and undergoes a maturation process, which is poorly understood. Using patch clamp technique on mouse olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) with a defined odorant receptor (OR), we demonstrate that OSNs exhibit functional maturation during the first month of postnatal life by developing faster response kinetics, higher sensitivity, and most intriguingly, higher selectivity. OSNs expressing the receptor MOR23 are relatively broadly tuned in neonates and become selective detectors for the cognate odorant within two weeks. Remarkably, these changes are prevented by genetic ablation of olfactory marker protein (OMP), which is exclusively expressed in mature OSNs. Biochemical and pharmacological evidence supports that alteration in odorant-induced phosphorylation of signaling proteins underlie some of the OMP−/− phenotypes. Furthermore, in a novel behavioral assay in which the mouse pups are given a choice between the biological mother and another unfamiliar lactating female, wild-type pups prefer the biological mother, while OMP knockout pups fail to show preference. These results reveal that OSNs undergo an OMP-dependant functional maturation process that coincides with early development of the smell function, which is essential for pups to form preference for their mother.
olfactory sensory neurons; olfactory marker protein; odorant receptors; functional maturation; maternal preference
The sense of smell is essential for insects to find foods, mates, predators, and oviposition sites3. Insect olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) are enclosed in sensory hairs called sensilla, which cover the surface of olfactory organs. The surface of each sensillum is covered with tiny pores, through which odorants pass and dissolve in a fluid called sensillum lymph, which bathes the sensory dendrites of the OSNs housed in a given sensillum. The OSN dendrites express odorant receptor (OR) proteins, which in insects function as odor-gated ion channels4, 5. The interaction of odorants with ORs either increases or decreases the basal firing rate of the OSN. This neuronal activity in the form of action potentials embodies the first representation of the quality, intensity, and temporal characteristics of the odorant6, 7.
Given the easy access to these sensory hairs, it is possible to perform extracellular recordings from single OSNs by introducing a recording electrode into the sensillum lymph, while the reference electrode is placed in the lymph of the eye or body of the insect. In Drosophila, sensilla house between one and four OSNs, but each OSN typically displays a characteristic spike amplitude. Spike sorting techniques make it possible to assign spiking responses to individual OSNs. This single sensillum recording (SSR) technique monitors the difference in potential between the sensillum lymph and the reference electrode as electrical spikes that are generated by the receptor activity on OSNs1, 2, 8. Changes in the number of spikes in response to the odorant represent the cellular basis of odor coding in insects. Here, we describe the preparation method currently used in our lab to perform SSR on Drosophila melanogaster and Anopheles gambiae, and show representative traces induced by the odorants in a sensillum-specific manner.
Early experience considerably modulates the organization and function of all sensory systems. In the mammalian olfactory system, deprivation of the sensory inputs via neonatal, unilateral naris closure has been shown to induce structural, molecular, and functional changes from the olfactory epithelium to the olfactory bulb and cortex. However, it remains unknown how early experience shapes functional properties of individual olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs), the primary odor detectors in the nose. To address this question, we examined odorant response properties of mouse OSNs in both the closed and open nostril after four weeks of unilateral naris closure with age-matched untreated animals as control. Using patch-clamp technique on genetically-tagged OSNs with defined odorant receptors (ORs), we found that sensory deprivation increased the sensitivity of MOR23 neurons in the closed side while overexposure caused the opposite effect in the open side. We next analyzed the response properties including rise time, decay time, and adaptation induced by repeated stimulation in MOR23 and M71 neurons. Even though these two types of neurons showed distinct properties in dynamic range and response kinetics, sensory deprivation significantly slowed down the decay phase of odorant-induced transduction events in both types. Using western blotting and antibody staining, we confirmed upregulation of several signaling proteins in the closed side as compared with the open side. This study suggests that early experience modulates functional properties of OSNs, probably via modifying the signal transduction cascade.
naris-closure; experience-dependent plasticity; olfactory signal transduction; patch clamp; and gene-targeting
The sense of smell plays a crucial role in the sensory world of animals. Two chemosensory systems have been traditionally thought to play-independent roles in mammalian olfaction. According to this, the main olfactory system (MOS) specializes in the detection of environmental odorants, while the vomeronasal system (VNS) senses pheromones and semiochemicals produced by individuals of the same or different species. Although both systems differ in their anatomy and function, recent evidence suggests they act synergistically in the perception of scents. These interactions include similar responses to some ligands, overlap of telencephalic connections and mutual influences in the regulation of olfactory-guided behavior. In the present work, we propose the idea that the relationships between systems observed at the organismic level result from a constant interaction during development and reflects a common history of ecological adaptations in evolution. We review the literature to illustrate examples of developmental and evolutionary processes that evidence these interactions and propose that future research integrating both systems may shed new light on the mechanisms of olfaction.
odorant; pheromone; neuroethology; neurogenesis; axon guidance; cell migration; cerebral cortex
In mammals, olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) expressing a specific odorant receptor (OR) gene project with precise stereotypy onto mitral/tufted (M/T) cells in the main olfactory bulb (MOB). It remains challenging to understand how incoming olfactory signals are transformed into outputs of M/T cells. By recording from OSNs expressing mouse I7 receptor and their postsynaptic neurons in the bulb, we found that I7 OSNs and their corresponding M/T cells exhibit similarly selective tuning profiles at low concentrations. Increasing the concentration significantly reduces response selectivity for both OSNs and M/T cells, although the tuning curve of M/T cells remains comparatively narrow. By contrast, interneurons in the MOB are broadly tuned, and blocking GABAergic neurotransmission reduces selectivity of M/T cells at high odorant concentrations. Our results indicate that olfactory information carried by an OR is channeled to its corresponding M/T cells and support the role of lateral inhibition via interneurons in sharpening the tuning of M/T cells.
A unifying feature of mammalian and insect olfactory systems is that olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) expressing the same unique odorant receptor gene converge onto the same glomeruli in the brain (1–7). Most odorants activate a combination of receptors and thus distinct patterns of glomeruli, forming a proposed combinatorial spatial code that could support discrimination between a large number of odorants (8–11). OSNs also exhibit odor-evoked responses with complex temporal dynamics (11), but the contribution of this activity to behavioral odor discrimination has received little attention (12). Here we investigated the importance of spatial encoding in the relatively simple Drosophila antennal lobe. We show that Drosophila can learn to discriminate between two odorants with one functional class of Or83b-expressing OSNs. Furthermore, these flies encode one odorant from a mixture, and cross-adapt to odorants that activate the relevant OSN class, demonstrating that they discriminate odorants using the same OSNs. Lastly, flies with a single class of Or83b-expressing OSNs recognize a specific odorant across a range of concentration indicating that they encode odorant identity. Therefore flies can distinguish odorants without discrete spatial codes in the antennal lobe, implying an important role for odorant-evoked temporal dynamics in behavioral odorant discrimination.
Electrical recording from small twigs of nerve in a tortoise showed that olfactory, vomeronasal, and trigeminal receptors in the nose are responsive to various odorants. No one kind of receptor was most sensitive to all odorants. For controlled stimulation, odorant was caused to appear in a stream of gas already flowing through the nose. Of the parameters definable at the naris, temperature, relative humidity, and nature of inert gas had little effect on olfactory responses to amyl acetate, whereas odorant species, odorant concentration, and volume flow rate effectively determined the responses of all nasal chemoreceptors. An intrinsic variable of accessibility to the receptors, particularly olfactory, was demonstrated. Flow dependence of chemoreceptor responses is thought to reflect the necessity for delivery of odorant molecules to receptor sites. Since the olfactory receptors are relatively exposed, plateauing of the response with flow rate for slightly soluble odorants suggests an approach to concentration equilibrium in the overlying mucus with that in the air entering the naris. Accordingly, data for responses to amyl acetate were fitted with Beidler's (1954) taste equation for two kinds of sites being active. The requirement for finite aqueous solubility, if true, suggests substitution of aqueous solutions for gaseous solutions. A suitable medium was found and results conformed to expectations. Olfactory receptors were insensitive to variation of ionic strength, pH, and osmotic pressure.
Most odors are perceived to have the same quality over a large concentration range, but the neural mechanisms that permit concentration-invariant olfactory perception are unknown. In larvae of the vinegar fly Drosophila melanogaster, odors are sensed by an array of 25 odorant receptors expressed in 21 olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs). We investigated how subsets of larval OSNs with overlapping but distinct response properties cooperate to mediate perception of a given odorant across a range of concentrations.
Using calcium imaging, we found that ethyl butyrate, an ester perceived by humans as fruity, activated three OSNs with response thresholds that varied across three orders of magnitude. Whereas wild-type larvae were strongly attracted by this odor across a 500-fold range of concentration, individuals with only a single functional OSN showed attraction across a narrower concentration range corresponding to the sensitivity of each ethyl butyrate-tuned OSN. To clarify how the information carried by different OSNs is integrated by the olfactory system, we characterized the response properties of local inhibitory interneurons and projection neurons in the antennal lobe. Local interneurons only responded to high ethyl butyrate concentrations upon summed activation of at least two OSNs. Projection neurons showed a reduced response to odors when summed input from two OSNs impinged on the circuit compared to when there was only a single functional OSN.
Our results show that increasing odor concentrations induce progressive activation of concentration-tuned olfactory sensory neurons and concomitant recruitment of inhibitory local interneurons. We propose that the interplay of combinatorial OSN input and local interneuron activation allows animals to remain sensitive to odors across a large range of stimulus intensities.
Comparative genomics provides a valuable tool for inferring the evolutionary history of physiological systems, particularly when this information is difficult to ascertain by morphological traits. One such example is the vomeronasal system (VNS), a vertebrate nasal chemosensory system that is responsible for detecting intraspecific pheromonal cues as well as environmental odorants. The morphological components of the VNS are found only in tetrapods, but the genetic components of the system have been found in teleost fish, in addition to tetrapods. To determine when the genetic components of the VNS originated, we searched for the VNS-specific genes in the genomes of two early diverging vertebrate lineages: the sea lamprey from jawless fishes and the elephant shark from cartilaginous fishes. Genes encoding vomeronasal type 1 receptors (V1Rs) and Trpc2, two components of the vomeronasal signaling pathway, are present in the sea lamprey genome, and both are expressed in the olfactory organ, revealing that the genetic components of the present-day VNS existed in the common ancestor of all extant vertebrates. Additionally, all three VNS genes, Trpc2, V1Rs, and vomeronasal type 2 receptors (V2Rs), are found in the elephant shark genome. Because V1Rs and V2Rs are related to two families of taste receptors, we also searched the early diverging vertebrate genomes for taste system genes and found them in the shark genome but not in the lamprey. Coupled with known distributions of the genetic components of the vertebrate main olfactory system, our results suggest staggered origins of vertebrate sensory systems. These findings are important for understanding the evolution of vertebrate sensory systems and illustrate the utility of the genome sequences of early diverging vertebrates for uncovering the evolution of vertebrate-specific traits.
Trpc2; V1R; V2R; vomeronasal; lamprey; shark
A diverse repertoire of heterotrimeric guanine nucleotide–binding protein (G protein)–coupled receptors (GPCRs) enables cells to sense their environment. Mammalian olfaction requires the activation of odorant receptors (ORs), the largest family of GPCRs; however, whether ORs functionally interact with other families of GPCRs is unclear. We show that the interaction of ORs with the type 3 muscarinic acetylcholine receptor (M3-R), which is found in olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs), modulated OR responses to cognate odorants. In human embryonic kidney–293T cells, ORs and the M3-R physically interacted, and the M3-R increased the potency and efficacy of odorant-elicited responses of several ORs. Selective M3-R antagonists attenuated odorant-dependent activation of OSNs, and, when the M3-R and ORs were expressed in transfected cells, OR activation was enhanced by muscarinic agonists and inhibited by muscarinic antagonists. Furthermore, M3-R–dependent potentiation of OR signaling synergized with that of receptor transporting protein 1S (RTP1S), an accessory factor required for the efficient membrane targeting of ORs. However, the M3-R did not enhance the abundance of ORs at the cell surface, suggesting that the M3-R acted through a distinct mechanism independent of RTP1S. Finally, the activation of ORs by cognate odorants transactivated the M3-R in the absence of its agonist. The cross talk between ORs and the M3-R suggests that the functional coupling of ORs and the M3-R is required for robust OR activation.
Most sensory systems are primarily specialized to detect one sensory modality. Here we report that olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) in the mammalian nose can detect two distinct modalities transmitted by chemical and mechanical stimuli. As revealed by patch-clamp recordings, many OSNs respond not only to odorants, but also to mechanical stimuli delivered by pressure ejections of odor-free Ringer solution. The mechanical responses correlate directly with the pressure intensity and show several properties similar to those induced by odorants, including onset latency, reversal potential and adaptation to repeated stimulation. Blocking adenylyl cyclase or knocking out the cyclic nucleotide–gated channel CNGA2 eliminates the odorant and the mechanical responses, suggesting that both are mediated by a shared cAMP cascade. We further show that this mechanosensitivity enhances the firing frequency of individual neurons when they are weakly stimulated by odorants and most likely drives the rhythmic activity (theta oscillation) in the olfactory bulb to synchronize with respiration.
Insect olfactory sensory neurons (OSN) express a diverse array of receptors from different protein families, i.e. ionotropic receptors (IR), gustatory receptors (GR) and odorant receptors (OR). It is well known that insects are exposed to a plethora of odor molecules that vary widely in both space and time under turbulent natural conditions. In addition to divergent ligand specificities, these different receptors might also provide an increased range of temporal dynamics and sensitivities for the olfactory system. To test this, we challenged different Drosophila OSNs with both varying stimulus durations (10–2000 ms), and repeated stimulus pulses of key ligands at various frequencies (1–10 Hz). Our results show that OR-expressing OSNs responded faster and with higher sensitivity to short stimulations as compared to IR- and Gr21a-expressing OSNs. In addition, OR-expressing OSNs could respond to repeated stimulations of excitatory ligands up to 5 Hz, while IR-expressing OSNs required ~5x longer stimulations and/or higher concentrations to respond to similar stimulus durations and frequencies. Nevertheless, IR-expressing OSNs did not exhibit adaptation to longer stimulations, unlike OR- and Gr21a-OSNs. Both OR- and IR-expressing OSNs were also unable to resolve repeated pulses of inhibitory ligands as fast as excitatory ligands. These differences were independent of the peri-receptor environment in which the receptors were expressed and suggest that the receptor expressed by a given OSN affects both its sensitivity and its response to transient, intermittent chemical stimuli. OR-expressing OSNs are better at resolving low dose, intermittent stimuli, while IR-expressing OSNs respond more accurately to long-lasting odor pulses. This diversity increases the capacity of the insect olfactory system to respond to the diverse spatiotemporal signals in the natural environment.
odorant receptors; ionotropic receptors; pulse resolution; single sensillum recording