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Gene switch for odorant receptors
Date:11/11/2011

This press release is available in German.

The olfactory sensory neurons in the nasal mucosa perceive the myriad smells in the air with the aid of odorant receptors. Each sensory neuron chooses one and only one receptor gene for expression. The probability that a particular receptor gene is chosen for expression determines how many olfactory sensory neurons in total produce this receptor type. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Biophysics in Frankfurt have unveiled an aspect of how the probability of the choice of an odorant receptor gene is regulated in olfactory sensory neurons. Regulatory elements in the genome regulate the probability of the choice of individual odorant receptor genes within a gene cluster. These elements act as on-off-switches for gene choice, but they do not regulate the number of receptor molecules that are produced by a cell once a particular gene is chosen for expression.

Odorant receptor genes form the largest gene familiy in the genome of many animals: for example, the mouse genome contains approximately 1200 of these genes. These genes are distributed across 40 gene clusters in the mouse genome, and clusters contain varying numbers of receptor genes. Nearby regulatory elements regulate the choice of individual genes within a cluster. Thus far, two such regulatory elements are known: the H element on chromosome 14 and the P element on chromosome 7.

Using RNA analysis, the Max Planck researchers discovered that the P element regulates the choice of individual genes from a cluster of 24 odorant receptor genes: in genetically modified mice that lack the P element, the probability that an olfactory sensory neuron chooses one of the genes is affected. "The P element can only turn a gene on, and so determine whether or not a cell chooses a receptor gene for expression. However, it has no influence on the num
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Contact: Peter Mombaerts, M.D., Ph.D.
peter@mombaerts.org
49-696-303-4000
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Source:Eurekalert  

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