The variable and conserved interfaces of modeled olfactory receptor proteins

Protein Sci. 1999 May;8(5):969-77. doi: 10.1110/ps.8.5.969.


The accumulation of hundreds of olfactory receptor (OR) sequences, along with the recent availability of detailed models of other G-protein-coupled receptors, allows us to analyze the OR amino acid variability patterns in a structural context. A Fourier analysis of 197 multiply aligned olfactory receptor sequences showed an alpha-helical periodicity in the variability profile. This was particularly pronounced in the more variable transmembranal segments 3, 4, and 5. Rhodopsin-based homology modeling demonstrated that the inferred variable helical faces largely point to the interior of the receptor barrel. We propose that a set of 17 hypervariable residues, which point to the barrel interior and are more extracellularly disposed, constitute the odorant complementarity determining regions. While 12 of these residues coincide with established ligand-binding contact positions in other G-protein-coupled receptors, the rest are suggested to form an olfactory-unique aspect of the binding pocket. Highly conserved olfactory receptor-specific sequence motifs, found in the second and third intracellular loops, may comprise the G-protein recognition epitope. The prediction of olfactory receptor functional sites provides concrete suggestions of site-directed mutagenesis experiments for altering ligand and G-protein specificity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Genetic Variation
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin Variable Region / chemistry
  • Models, Biological
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Protein Binding
  • Receptors, Odorant / chemistry*
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid


  • Immunoglobulin Variable Region
  • Receptors, Odorant