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What Are Olfactory Receptors? Where Are They Located And How Do They Work?

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What are Olfactory receptors?

Olfactory receptors are also referred as the odorant receptors that are expressed in cell membranes of the olfactory receptor neurons. It is mainly accountable for detecting odorants that results in sense of smell. Activated olfactory receptors activates nerve impulses which helps in transmitting the information of odor to the brain. Such receptors are considered as the member of class A rhodopsin like family of G-protein coupled receptors. These receptors are found commonly in the arthropods, terrestrial vertebrates, fish and other animals.   

Where are they located and how do they work?

In the terrestrial vertebrates together with humans, the receptors are mainly located on the olfactory receptor cells that are present in very big numbers and it is clustered inside the small area at the back of nasal cavity which forms an olfactory epithelium. Every receptor cell has one single external process which spreads up to the surface of epithelium and results in long, slender extensions named cilia. The cilia is particularly covered by the mucus of nasal cavity leading to the detection of and response to odour molecules from the olfactory receptors. In the arthropods, the olfactory receptors are mainly located in the feelerlike structures namely the antennae.

Inside the cell membrane, olfactory receptor proteins are oriented in a manner where one ends projects outside the cell while the other end projects inside the cell. As a result, it becomes possible for the chemical outside the cell particularly the molecule of the odorant for communicating as well as producing changes inside the cellular machinery without entering inside the cell. The inside and outside ends of receptor proteins involving smell are linked by the chain of amino acids. As the chain loops seven times from the thickness of the cell membrane, it is believed to have seven transmembrane domains. The order of amino acids creating these proteins is analytically significant. It is believed that stimulations happen when a molecule with the particular shape fits in the corresponding pocket under the receptor molecule instead as the key fits in a lock, thereby changing the chemicals which fits in the pockets.

For instance, one olfactory receptor proteins among rats generates higher response in the receptor cell when it interacts with the alcohol that is known as octanol instead of an alcohol that is known as heptanol. Changing one amino acid from the valine to the isoleucine in the fifth transmembrane area that is believed to contribute to the shape of pocket which changes the receptor protein in a manner that heptanol rather than octanol generates greatest impact. Whereas, in mice the corresponding receptor is commonly in this form, generating more response to heptanol instead of octanol. This portrays the significance of amino acid molecules in ascertaining the specificity of receptor cells.

When a receptor protein binds with the appropriate chemicals, the protein goes into conformational change that in return results in sequence of chemical events inside the cell involving molecules known as second messengers. Signalling of second messenger enables single odour molecule to bind with single receptor protein to effect changes in extent of opening greater number of ion channels.            

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