Insect olfactory receptors: contributions of molecular biology to chemical ecology

J Chem Ecol. 2004 Dec;30(12):2359-97. doi: 10.1007/s10886-004-7941-3.


Our understanding of the molecular basis of chemical signal recognition in insects has been greatly expanded by the recent discovery of olfactory receptors (Ors). Since the discovery of the complete repertoire of Drosophila melanogaster Ors, candidate Ors have been identified from at least 12 insect species from four orders (Coleoptera, Lepidoptera, Diptera, and Hymenoptera), including species of economic or medical importance. Although all Ors share the same G-protein coupled receptor structure with seven transmembrane domains, they present poor sequence homologies within and between species, and have been identified mainly through genomic data analyses. To date, D. melanogaster remains the only insect species where Ors have been extensively studied, from expression pattern establishment to functional investigations. These studies have confirmed several observations made in vertebrates: one Or type is selectively expressed in a subtype of olfactory receptor neurons, and one olfactory neuron expresses only one type of Or. In addition, all olfactory neurons expressing one Or type converge to the same glomerulus in the antennal lobe. The olfactory mechanism, thus, appears to be conserved between insects and vertebrates. Although Or functional studies are in their initial stages in insects (mainly Drosophila), insects appear to be good models to establish fundamental concepts of olfaction with the development of powerful genetic, imaging, and behavioral tools. This new field of study will greatly contribute to the understanding of insect chemical communication mechanisms, particularly with agricultural pests and disease vectors, and could result in future strategies to reduce their negative effects.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chemical Phenomena
  • Chemistry*
  • Ecology*
  • Genomics
  • Insecta
  • Molecular Biology*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Olfactory Receptor Neurons / physiology*
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / genetics
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / physiology*
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Species Specificity


  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled