Unitary response of mouse olfactory receptor neurons

Yair Ben-Chaim, Melody M. Cheng, King Wai Yau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The sense of smell begins with odorant molecules binding to membrane receptors on the cilia of olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs), thereby activating a G protein, Golf, and the downstream effector enzyme, an adenylyl cyclase (ACIII). Recently, we have found in amphibian ORNs that an odorant-binding event has a low probability of activating sensory transduction at all; even when successful, the resulting unitary response apparently involves a single active Gαolf-ACIII molecular complex. This low amplification is in contrast to rod phototransduction in vision, the best-quantified G-protein signaling pathway, where each photoisomerized rhodopsin molecule is well known to produce substantial amplification by activating many G-protein, and hence effector-enzyme, molecules. We have now carried out similar experiments on mouse ORNs, which offer, additionally, the advantage of genetics. Indeed, we found the same low probability of transduction, based on the unitary olfactory response having a fairly constant amplitude and similar kinetics across different odorants and randomly encountered ORNs. Also, consistent with our picture, the unitary response of Gαolf+/- ORNs was similar to WT in amplitude, although their Gαolf-protein expression was only half of normal. Finally, from the action potential firing, we estimated that ≤19 odorant-binding events successfully triggering transduction in a WT mouse ORN will lead to signaling to the brain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)822-827
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number2
StatePublished - 11 Jan 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Mammal
  • Olfaction
  • Olfactory transduction


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