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J Neurobiol. 1996 May;30(1):37-48.

Second messenger signaling in olfactory transduction.

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Monell Chemical Senses Center, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 19104, USA.


Olfactory receptor neurons respond to odorants with G-protein mediated increases in the concentration of cyclic adenosine 3',5'-monophosphate (cAMP) and/or inositol 1,4,5-trisphospahte (InsP3). These two second messengers directly regulate opening of cAMP- and InsP3-regulated conductances localized to the apical transduction compartments of the cell (cilia and olfactory knob). In the presence of physiological concentrations of extracellular Ca2+, these second messenger regulated conductances mediate influx of Ca2+ into the olfactory neuron resulting in large, localized increases in intracellular Ca2+ ([Ca2+]i). A significant advance in our understanding of the molecular mechanisms of olfaction is the recent realization that this increase in [Ca2+]i plays an important role as a "third messenger" in olfactory transduction. Second messenger dependent increases in [Ca2+]i cause opening of ciliary Ca(2+)-activated Cl-, cation and/ or K+ channels that can carry a large percentage of the generator current, thus amplifying the signal substantially. As a result of this sequence of events, the generator potential in olfactory neurons can be depolarizing, leading to excitation of the neuron, or hyperpolarizing, leading to suppression of basal action potential firing rate. This dual effect of odorants on olfactory neurons may play an important role in quality coding and in the ability to detect low concentrations of odorants, particularly in complex mixtures.

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