This review intends to integrate recent data from the Drosophila olfactory system into an up-to-date account of the neuronal basis of olfaction. It focuses on (1) an electron microscopic study that mapped a large proportion of fruitfly olfactory sensilla, (2) large-scale electrophysiological recordings that allowed the classification of the odor response spectra of a complete set of sensilla, (3) the identification and expression patterns of candidate odorant receptors in the olfactory tissues, (4) central projections of neurons expressing a given odorant receptor, (5) an improved glomerular map of the olfactory center, and (6) attempts to exploit the larval olfactory system as a model of reduced cellular complexity. These studies find surprising parallels between the olfactory systems of flies and mammals, and thus underline the usefulness of the fruitfly as an olfactory model system. Both in Drosophila and in mammals, odorant receptor neurons appear to express only one type of receptor. Neurons expressing a given receptor are scattered in the olfactory tissues but their afferents converge onto a few target glomeruli only. This suggests that in both phyla, the periphery is represented in the brain as a chemotopic map. The major difference between mammals and fruitflies refers to the numbers of receptors, neurons, and glomeruli, which are largely reduced in the latter, and particularly in larvae. Yet, if activated in a combinatorial fashion, even this small set of elements could allow discrimination between a vast array of odorants.
Copyright 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.