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J Gen Physiol. 2009 Jun;133(6):583-601. doi: 10.1085/jgp.200810085. Epub 2009 May 11.

Mechanism of olfactory masking in the sensory cilia.

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  • 1Graduate School of Frontier Biosciences, Osaka University, Osaka 560-8531, Japan.


Olfactory masking has been used to erase the unpleasant sensation in human cultures for a long period of history. Here, we show a positive correlation between the human masking and the odorant suppression of the transduction current through the cyclic nucleotide-gated (CNG) and Ca2+-activated Cl- (Cl(Ca)) channels. Channels in the olfactory cilia were activated with the cytoplasmic photolysis of caged compounds, and their sensitiveness to odorant suppression was measured with the whole cell patch clamp. When 16 different types of chemicals were applied to cells, cyclic AMP (cAMP)-induced responses (a mixture of CNG and Cl(Ca) currents) were suppressed widely with these substances, but with different sensitivities. Using the same chemicals, in parallel, we measured human olfactory masking with 6-rate scoring tests and saw a correlation coefficient of 0.81 with the channel block. Ringer's solution that was just preexposed to the odorant-containing air affected the cAMP-induced current of the single cell, suggesting that odorant suppression occurs after the evaporation and air/water partition of the odorant chemicals at the olfactory mucus. To investigate the contribution of Cl(Ca), the current was exclusively activated by using the ultraviolet photolysis of caged Ca, DM-nitrophen. With chemical stimuli, it was confirmed that Cl(Ca) channels were less sensitive to the odorant suppression. It is interpreted, however, that in the natural odorant response the Cl(Ca) is affected by the reduction of Ca2+ influx through the CNG channels as a secondary effect. Because the signal transmission between CNG and Cl(Ca) channels includes nonlinear signal-boosting process, CNG channel blockage leads to an amplified reduction in the net current. In addition, we mapped the distribution of the Cl(Ca) channel in living olfactory single cilium using a submicron local [Ca2+]i elevation with the laser photolysis. Cl(Ca) channels are expressed broadly along the cilia. We conclude that odorants regulate CNG level to express masking, and Cl(Ca) in the cilia carries out the signal amplification and reduction evenly spanning the entire cilia. The present findings may serve possible molecular architectures to design effective masking agents, targeting olfactory manipulation at the nano-scale ciliary membrane.

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