Evolution, developmental expression and function of odorant receptors in insects

J Exp Biol. 2020 Feb 7;223(Pt Suppl 1):jeb208215. doi: 10.1242/jeb.208215.


Animals rely on their chemosensory system to discriminate among a very large number of attractive or repulsive chemical cues in the environment, which is essential to respond with proper action. The olfactory sensory systems in insects share significant similarities with those of vertebrates, although they also exhibit dramatic differences, such as the molecular nature of the odorant receptors (ORs): insect ORs function as heteromeric ion channels with a common Orco subunit, unlike the G-protein-coupled olfactory receptors found in vertebrates. Remarkable progress has recently been made in understanding the evolution, development and function of insect odorant receptor neurons (ORNs). These studies have uncovered the diversity of olfactory sensory systems among insect species, including in eusocial insects that rely extensively on olfactory sensing of pheromones for social communication. However, further studies, notably functional analyses, are needed to improve our understanding of the origins of the Orco-OR system, the mechanisms of ORN fate determination, and the extraordinary diversity of behavioral responses to chemical cues.

Keywords: Ant; Development; Diversity; Drosophila; Evolution; Odorant Receptor; Olfaction; Orco.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Insect Proteins / genetics
  • Insecta / genetics
  • Pheromones
  • Receptors, Odorant* / genetics
  • Smell


  • Insect Proteins
  • Pheromones
  • Receptors, Odorant