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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Mar 1;108(9):3797-802. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1012293108. Epub 2011 Feb 14.

Molecular vibration-sensing component in Drosophila melanogaster olfaction.

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Institute of Cellular and Developmental Biology, Biomedical Sciences Research Centre Alexander Fleming, Vari 16672, Greece.


A common explanation of molecular recognition by the olfactory system posits that receptors recognize the structure or shape of the odorant molecule. We performed a rigorous test of shape recognition by replacing hydrogen with deuterium in odorants and asking whether Drosophila melanogaster can distinguish these identically shaped isotopes. We report that flies not only differentiate between isotopic odorants, but can be conditioned to selectively avoid the common or the deuterated isotope. Furthermore, flies trained to discriminate against the normal or deuterated isotopes of a compound, selectively avoid the corresponding isotope of a different odorant. Finally, flies trained to avoid a deuterated compound exhibit selective aversion to an unrelated molecule with a vibrational mode in the energy range of the carbon-deuterium stretch. These findings are inconsistent with a shape-only model for smell, and instead support the existence of a molecular vibration-sensing component to olfactory reception.

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