An important recent advance in the understanding of odor adaptation has come from the discovery that complex mechanisms of odor adaptation already take place at the earliest stage of the olfactory system, in the olfactory cilia. At least two rapid forms and one persistent form of odor adaptation coexist in vertebrate olfactory receptor neurons. These three different adaptation phenomena can be dissected on the basis of their different onset and recovery time courses and their pharmacological properties, indicating that they are controlled, at least in part, by separate molecular mechanisms. Evidence is provided for the involvement of distinct molecular steps in these forms of odor adaptation, including Ca(2+) entry through cyclic nucleotide-gated (CNG) channels, Ca(2+)-dependent CNG channel modulation, Ca(2+)/calmodulin kinase II-dependent attenuation of adenylyl cyclase, and the activity of the carbon monoxide/cyclic GMP second messenger system. Identification of these molecular steps may help to elucidate how the olfactory system extracts temporal and intensity information and to which extent odor perception is influenced by the different mechanisms underlying adaptation.