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Science. 1999 Oct 22;286(5440):707-11.

Seven-transmembrane proteins as odorant and chemosensory receptors.

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  • The Rockefeller University, 1230 York Avenue, New York, NY 10021, USA. pm@rockvax.rockefeller.edu


The olfactory systems of various species solve the challenging problem of general molecular recognition in widely differing ways. Despite this variety, the molecular receptors are invariably G protein-coupled seven-transmembrane proteins, and are encoded by the largest gene families known to exist in a given animal genome. Receptor gene families have been identified in vertebrates and two invertebrate species, the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans and the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. The complexity of the odorant receptor repertoire is estimated in mouse and rat at 1000 genes, or 1 percent of the genome, surpassing that of the immunoglobulin and T cell receptor genes combined. Two distinct seven-transmembrane gene families may encode in rodents the chemosensory receptors of the vomeronasal organ, which is specialized in the detection of pheromones. Remarkably, these five receptor families have practically no sequence homology among them. Genetic manipulation experiments in mice imply that vertebrate odorant receptors may fulfill a dual role, also serving as address molecules that guide axons of olfactory sensory neurons to their precise target in the brain.

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