A comparison of the human and chimpanzee olfactory receptor gene repertoires

Genome Res. 2005 Feb;15(2):224-30. doi: 10.1101/gr.2846405.


Olfactory receptor (OR) genes constitute the basis of the sense of smell and are encoded by the largest mammalian gene superfamily, with >1000 members. In humans, but not in mice or dogs, the majority of OR genes have become pseudogenes, suggesting that OR genes in humans evolve under different selection pressures than in other mammals. To explore this further, we compare the OR gene repertoire of human with its closest living evolutionary relative, by taking advantage of the recently sequenced genome of the chimpanzee. In agreement with previous reports based on a small number of ORs, we find that humans have a significantly higher proportion of OR pseudogenes than chimpanzees. Moreover, we can reject the possibility that humans have been accumulating OR pseudogenes at a constant neutral rate since the divergence of human and chimpanzee. The comparison of the two repertoires reveals two chimpanzee-specific OR subfamily expansions and three expansions specific to humans. It also suggests that a subset of OR genes are under positive selection in either the human or the chimpanzee lineage. Thus, although overall there is relaxed constraint on human olfaction relative to chimpanzee, species-specific sensory requirements appear to have shaped the evolution of the functional OR gene repertoires in both species.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genes / genetics
  • Humans
  • Pan troglodytes / genetics*
  • Phylogeny
  • Pseudogenes / genetics
  • Receptors, Odorant / genetics*
  • Selection, Genetic


  • Receptors, Odorant