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Olfactory nerve cells expressing same receptor display a varied set of reactions

(Philadelphia, PA) In a mouse model, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine researchers discovered that olfactory sensory neurons expressing the same receptor responded to a specific odor with an array of speeds and sensitivities, a phenomenon previously not detected in the mammalian sense of smell. The group published their findings this week in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"We assumed that the sensory neurons that express the same receptor would respond to a specific odor in the same way," says senior author Minghong Ma, PhD, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at Penn. "But in real biology, these olfactory neurons keep regenerating, and even though they all express the same receptor, they're probably at different states of maturation, displaying different qualities. By knowing that olfactory neurons can respond differently, we're adding another layer to understanding how the olfactory system receives outside information."

Ma's group measured 53 different olfactory neurons that express the MOR23 odor receptor. As a group, the neurons reacted differently from one another in their response to lyral, an artificial odor used in fragrances and flavoring. After subjecting all cells to a short pulse (200-300 milliseconds) of lyral, the researchers measured the cells' sensitivity to the odor. Some cells responded to very low concentrations of lyral; others, to higher concentrations. Regarding the cells' reaction time, some neurons finished firing within 500 milliseconds, but for others, the response time was up to five seconds.

Detection of odor molecules depends on about 1000 different odor receptors in the rodent nose. Different sets of receptors respond to different sets of odors. To date, no one has been able to record electrical impulses from a specific subtype of olfactory sensory neuron expressing a known receptor. This is important, says Ma, because prior to this paper, when researchers
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Contact: Karen Kreeger
karen.kreeger@uphs.upenn.edu
215-349-5658
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
2-Feb-2006


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