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EMBO J. 2004 Jan 14;23(1):120-6. Epub 2003 Dec 18.

Olfactory receptor antagonism between odorants.

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Department of Integrated Biosciences, The University of Tokyo, Chiba, Japan.


The detection of thousands of volatile odorants is mediated by several hundreds of different G protein-coupled olfactory receptors (ORs). The main strategy in encoding odorant identities is a combinatorial receptor code scheme in that different odorants are recognized by different sets of ORs. Despite increasing information on agonist-OR combinations, little is known about the antagonism of ORs in the mammalian olfactory system. Here we show that odorants inhibit odorant responses of OR(s), evidence of antagonism between odorants at the receptor level. The antagonism was demonstrated in a heterologous OR-expression system and in single olfactory neurons that expressed a given OR, and was also visualized at the level of the olfactory epithelium. Dual functions of odorants as an agonist and an antagonist to ORs indicate a new aspect in the receptor code determination for odorant mixtures that often give rise to novel perceptual qualities that are not present in each component. The current study also provides insight into strategies to modulate perceived odorant quality.

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