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Science 308 (5730): 1931-1934

Copyright © 2005 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Elementary Response of Olfactory Receptor Neurons to Odorants

Vikas Bhandawat,* Johannes Reisert, King-Wai Yau*

Abstract: Signaling by heterotrimeric GTP-binding proteins (G proteins) drives numerous cellular processes. The number of G protein molecules activated by a single membrane receptor is a determinant of signal amplification, although in most cases this parameter remains unknown. In retinal rod photoreceptors, a long-lived photoisomerized rhodopsin molecule activates many G protein molecules (transducins), yielding substantial amplification and a large elementary (single-photon) response, before rhodopsin activity is terminated. Here we report that the elementary response in olfactory transduction is extremely small. A ligand-bound odorant receptor has a low probability of activating even one G protein molecule because the odorant dwell-time is very brief. Thus, signal amplification in olfactory transduction appears fundamentally different from that of phototransduction.

Department of Neuroscience, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA.

* To whom correspondence should be addressed. Room 907 Preclinical Teaching Building, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 725 North Wolfe Street, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA. E-mail: vbhanda{at} (V.B.); kwyau{at} (K.-W.Y.)

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