Human Olfactory Receptors: Novel Cellular Functions Outside of the Nose

Physiol Rev. 2018 Jul 1;98(3):1739-1763. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00013.2017.


Olfactory receptors (ORs) are not exclusively expressed in the olfactory sensory neurons; they are also observed outside of the olfactory system in all other human tissues tested to date, including the testis, lung, intestine, skin, heart, and blood. Within these tissues, certain ORs have been determined to be exclusively expressed in only one tissue, whereas other ORs are more widely distributed in many different tissues throughout the human body. For most of the ectopically expressed ORs, limited data are available for their functional roles. They have been shown to be involved in the modulation of cell-cell recognition, migration, proliferation, the apoptotic cycle, exocytosis, and pathfinding processes. Additionally, there is a growing body of evidence that they have the potential to serve as diagnostic and therapeutic tools, as ORs are highly expressed in different cancer tissues. Interestingly, in addition to the canonical signaling pathways activated by ORs in olfactory sensory neurons, alternative pathways have been demonstrated in nonolfactory tissues. In this review, the existing data concerning the expression, as well as the physiological and pathophysiological functions, of ORs outside of the nose are highlighted to provide insights into future lines of research.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers
  • Ectopic Gene Expression
  • Humans
  • Receptors, Odorant / agonists
  • Receptors, Odorant / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction


  • Biomarkers
  • Receptors, Odorant