Stochastic gene expression in mammals: lessons from olfaction

Trends Cell Biol. 2013 Sep;23(9):449-56. doi: 10.1016/j.tcb.2013.04.005. Epub 2013 May 18.


One of the remarkable characteristics of higher organisms is the enormous assortment of cell types that emerge from a common genome. The immune system, with the daunting duty of detecting an astounding number of pathogens, and the nervous system with the equally bewildering task of perceiving and interpreting the external world, are the quintessence of cellular diversity. As we began to appreciate decades ago, achieving distinct expression programs among similar cell types cannot be accomplished solely by deterministic regulatory systems, but by the involvement of some type of stochasticity. In the last few years our understanding of these non-deterministic mechanisms is advancing, and this review will provide a brief summary of the current view of stochastic gene expression with focus on olfactory receptor (OR) gene choice, the epigenetic underpinnings of which recently began to emerge.

Keywords: antigen receptors; clustered protocadherins; epigenetic mechanisms; nuclear architecture; olfactory receptors; stochasticity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Animals
  • Cadherins / genetics*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Humans
  • Mammals
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Receptors, Antigen / genetics*
  • Receptors, Antigen / immunology
  • Receptors, Odorant / genetics*
  • Receptors, Odorant / physiology
  • Signal Transduction


  • Cadherins
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Antigen
  • Receptors, Odorant