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Extensive variability in olfactory receptors influences human odor perception
Date:12/8/2013

PHILADELPHIA (December 8, 2013) According to Gertrude Stein, "A rose is a rose is a rose," but new research indicates that might not be the case when it comes to the rose's scent. Researchers from the Monell Center and collaborating institutions have found that as much as 30 percent of the large array of human olfactory receptor differs between any two individuals. This substantial variation is in turn reflected by variability in how each person perceives odors.

Humans have about 400 different types of specialized sensors, known as olfactory receptor proteins, that somehow work together to detect a large variety of odors.

"Understanding how this huge array of receptors encodes odors is a challenging task," says study lead author Joel Mainland, PhD, a molecular biologist at Monell. "The activation pattern of these 400 receptors encodes both the intensity of an odor and the quality for example, whether it smells like vanilla or smoke for the tens of thousands of different odors that represent everything we smell.

Right now, nobody knows how the activity patterns are translated into a signal that our brain registers as the odor."

Adding to the complexity of the problem, the underlying amino acid sequence can vary slightly for each of the 400 receptor proteins, resulting in one or more variants for each of the receptors. Each receptor variant responds to odors in a slightly different way and the variants are distributed across individuals such that nearly everyone has a unique combination of olfactory receptors.

To gain a better understanding of the extent of olfactory receptor variation and how this impacts human odor perception, Mainland and his collaborators used a combination of high-throughput assays to measure how single receptors and individual humans respond to odors. The results, published in Nature Neuroscience, provide a critical step towards understanding how olfactory receptors encode the intens
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Contact: Leslie Stein
stein@monell.org
267-519-4707
Monell Chemical Senses Center
Source:Eurekalert

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