Evolution of odorant receptors expressed in mammalian testes

Genetics. 2000 Oct;156(2):785-97. doi: 10.1093/genetics/156.2.785.


About 10% of mammalian odorant receptors are transcribed in testes, and odorant-receptor proteins have been detected on mature spermatozoa. Testis-expressed odorant receptors (TORs) are hypothesized to play roles in sperm chemotaxis, but they might also be ordinary nasal odorant receptors (NORs) that are expressed gratuitously in testes. Under the sperm-chemotaxis hypothesis, TORs should be subject to intense sexual selection and therefore should show higher rates of amino acid substitution than NORs, but under the gratuitous-expression hypothesis, TORs are misidentified NORs and therefore should evolve like other NORs. To test these predictions, we estimated synonymous and nonsynonymous divergences of orthologous NOR and TOR coding sequences from rat and mouse. Contrary to both hypotheses, TORs are on average more highly conserved than NORs, especially in certain domains of the OR protein. This pattern suggests that some TORs might perform internal nonolfactory functions in testes; for example, they might participate in the regulation of sperm development. However, the pattern is also consistent with a modified gratuitous-expression model in which NORs with specialized ligand specificities are both more highly conserved than typical NORs and more likely to be expressed in testes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Chemotaxis
  • Conserved Sequence
  • Dogs
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genetic Variation
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mammals
  • Mice
  • Phylogeny
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Odorant / genetics*
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Spermatozoa / physiology
  • Swine
  • Testis / physiology*


  • Receptors, Odorant