How Sensitive Is a Nose?

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Science's STKE  14 Feb 2006:
Vol. 2006, Issue 322, pp. pe8
DOI: 10.1126/stke.3222006pe8

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Odor sensitivity may not be due to odor-receptor (OR) binding but rather may be due to emergent properties of transduction pathways and the anatomical convergence of olfactory neurons. A recent study suggests that odor-OR interactions are brief and infrequently activate heterotrimeric GTP-binding proteins (G proteins); in contrast, visual receptors have long-lasting activation states and activate many G proteins. These differences may reflect strategies that evolved to accommodate very different signals, and the mechanisms described might be applicable for receptors across phyla. However, whereas visual receptors (rhodopsin) appeared before protostome-deuterostome separation, ORs may be independently derived in different phyla. Alternatively, phylum-distinct ORs may share common ancestry but be influenced by diversifying selection. Phylum-distinct ORs may imply phylum-specific OR mechanisms, whereas common ancestry may imply common mechanisms. Nonetheless, most animals detect a similar repertoire of olfactory signals, and OR mechanisms may be convergent on those signals independent of receptor relatedness. Thus, recent insights into the molecular characteristics of odor perception in frogs may well be relevant to such processes as how mosquitoes detect host odors for a malaria-transmitting blood meal.

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