The sense of smell allows chemicals to be perceived as diverse scents. We used single-neuron RNA sequencing to explore the developmental mechanisms that shape this ability as nasal olfactory neurons mature in mice. Most mature neurons expressed only one of the ~1000 odorant receptor genes (Olfrs) available, and at a high level. However, many immature neurons expressed low levels of multiple Olfrs. Coexpressed Olfrs localized to overlapping zones of the nasal epithelium, suggesting regional biases, but not to single genomic loci. A single immature neuron could express Olfrs from up to seven different chromosomes. The mature state in which expression of Olfr genes is restricted to one per neuron emerges over a developmental progression that appears to be independent of neuronal activity involving sensory transduction molecules.
Maturation of olfactory neurons
The sense of smell depends on neurons in the olfactory epithelium to perceive chemical scents. Each neuron specializes with one receptor. Hanchate et al. now show that the one-for-one relationship is not as simple as thought. As new neurons develop to replenish the olfactory epithelium, they initially express several different alleles of olfactory receptors. Then, as each neuron matures, they specialize to express a single receptor.
Science, this issue p. 1251
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