The mammalian odorant receptors (ORs) comprise a large family of G protein-coupled receptors that are critical determinants of both the odorant response profile and the axonal identity of the olfactory sensory neurons in which they are expressed. Although the pathway by which ORs activate odor transduction is well established, the mechanism by which they direct axons into proper glomerular relationships remains unknown. We have developed a gain-of-function approach by using injection of retroviral vectors into the embryonic olfactory epithelium to study the ORs' contribution to axon guidance. By ectopically expressing ORs, we demonstrate that functional OR proteins induce axonal coalescence. Furthermore, ectopic expression of Galpha mutants reveals that activation of the signal transduction cascade is sufficient to cause axonal convergence into glomeruli. Analysis of Galpha subunit expression indicates that development and odorant transduction use separate transduction pathways. Last, we establish that the generation of cAMP through adenylyl cyclase 3 is necessary to establish proper axonal identity. Our data point to a model in which axonal sorting is accomplished by OR stimulation of cAMP production by coupling to Galphas.
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