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Title: Adaptation of olfactory receptor abundances for efficient coding
A mouse’s nose contains over 10 million receptor neurons divided into about 1,000 different types, which detect airborne chemicals – called odorants – that make up smells. Each odorant activates many different receptor types. And each receptor type responds to many different odorants. To identify a smell, the brain must therefore consider the overall pattern of activation across all receptor types. Individual receptor neurons in the mammalian nose live for about 30 days, before new cells replace them. The entire population of odorant receptor neurons turns over every few weeks, even in adults. Studies have shown that some types of these receptor neurons are used more often than others, depending on the species, and are therefore much more abundant. Moreover, the usage patterns of different receptor types can also change when individual animals are exposed to different smells. Teşileanu et al. set out to develop a computer model that can explain these observations. The results revealed that the nose adjusts its odorant receptor neurons to provide the brain with as much information as possible about typical smells in the environment. Because each smell consists of multiple odorants, each odorant is more likely to occur alongside certain others. For example, the odorants that make up the scent of a flower are more likely to occur together than alongside the odorants in diesel. The nose takes advantage of these relationships by adjusting the abundance of the receptor types in line with them. Teşileanu et al. show that exposure to odorants leads to reproducible increases or decreases in different receptor types, depending on what would provide the brain with most information. The number of odorant receptor neurons in the human nose decreases with time. The current findings could help scientists understand how these changes affect our sense of smell as we age. This will require collaboration between experimental and theoretical scientists to measure the odors typical of our environments, and work out how our odorant receptor neurons detect them.  more » « less
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