Molecular properties of odorant compounds essential for activation of the human olfactory receptor hOR17-40 were investigated using a collection of 23 variants of its cognate ligand helional. Coupling receptor activation to an optically detectable intracellular Ca(2+) ion flux allowed dose-dependent screening of different odorant molecules in human embryonic kidney (HEK)293 cells. We found an extended collection of activating ligands and provide first evidence for hOR17-40-specific antagonists. The C-terminal fusion of enhanced green fluorescent protein to the hOR17-40 retained full receptor function and permitted the selection of cells with defined receptor expression levels, which was an essential step for optimizing our screening protocol. Interestingly, cells with a low EGFP fluorescence intensity exhibited efficient hOR17-40 cell surface targeting and odorant-evoked signal transduction; in contrast, highly fluorescent cells displayed mainly incorrectly targeted, intracellular receptors. Fluorescence-activated cell sorting was used to separate hOR17-40-expressing cells on the basis of their endogenous EGFP fluorescence intensity, thereby increasing the fraction of odorant-responsive cells to up to 80% of the total cell number.