Molecular biology of odorant receptors in vertebrates

Annu Rev Neurosci. 1999;22:487-509. doi: 10.1146/annurev.neuro.22.1.487.


The initial step in olfactory discrimination involves the interaction of odorous ligands with specific receptors on the surface of olfactory sensory neurons. The foundation for a molecular understanding of odor recognition in vertebrates was provided by the identification of a family of genes encoding putative odorant receptors, by Buck & Axel in 1991. Odorant receptor (OR) genes from the largest gene family in the vertebrate genome. This review summarizes progress over the past seven years. Major new insights are: Olfaction is accomplished in vertebrates by a very large number of receptors; olfactory sensory neurons express a small subset of the OR repertoire; in rat and mouse, axons of neurons expressing the same OR converge onto defined glomeruli in the olfactory bulb.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cloning, Molecular
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology
  • Molecular Biology / methods
  • Receptors, Odorant / genetics*
  • Receptors, Odorant / metabolism
  • Vertebrates / genetics*
  • Vertebrates / metabolism


  • Receptors, Odorant