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Sci Adv. 2019 Jul 31;5(7):eaax0396. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aax0396. eCollection 2019 Jul.

A transcriptomic atlas of mammalian olfactory mucosae reveals an evolutionary influence on food odor detection in humans.

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Sidra Medicine, PO Box 26999, Doha, Qatar.
Wellcome Sanger Institute, Wellcome Genome Campus, Hinxton, Cambridge CB10 1SD, UK.
European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Wellcome Genome Campus, Hinxton,, Cambridge CB10 1SD, UK.
Monell Chemical Senses Center, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.
Max Planck Research Unit for Neurogenetics, Max von-Laue-Strasse 4, 60438 Frankfurt, Germany.
Department of ENT-HNS, UZ Leuven, Herestraat 49, 3000 Leuven, Belgium.
Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition, Leicestershire LE14 4RT, UK.
CRUK Cambridge Institute, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 0RE, UK.
Department of Neuroscience, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.


The mammalian olfactory system displays species-specific adaptations to different ecological niches. To investigate the evolutionary dynamics of olfactory sensory neuron (OSN) subtypes across mammalian evolution, we applied RNA sequencing of whole olfactory mucosa samples from mouse, rat, dog, marmoset, macaque, and human. We find that OSN subtypes, representative of all known mouse chemosensory receptor gene families, are present in all analyzed species. Further, we show that OSN subtypes expressing canonical olfactory receptors are distributed across a large dynamic range and that homologous subtypes can be either highly abundant across all species or species/order specific. Highly abundant mouse and human OSN subtypes detect odorants with similar sensory profiles and sense ecologically relevant odorants, such as mouse semiochemicals or human key food odorants. Together, our results allow for a better understanding of the evolution of mammalian olfaction in mammals and provide insights into the possible functions of highly abundant OSN subtypes.

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