How a human smell receptor works is finally revealed

How a human smell receptor works is finally revealed

Wynne Parry writes:

For the first time, researchers have determined how a human olfactory receptor captures an airborne scent molecule, the pivotal chemical event that triggers our sense of smell.

Whether it evokes roses or vanilla, cigarettes or gasoline, every scent starts with free-floating odor molecules that latch onto receptors in the nose. Multitudes of such unions produce the perception of the smells we love, loathe or tolerate. Researchers therefore want to know in granular detail how smell sensors detect and respond to odor molecules. Yet human smell receptors have resisted attempts to visualize how they work in detail — until now.

In a recent paper published in Nature, a team of researchers delineated the elusive three-dimensional structure of one of these receptors in the act of holding its quarry, a compound that contributes to the aroma of Swiss cheese and body odor.

“People have been puzzled about the actual structure of olfactory receptors for decades,” said Michael Schmuker, who uses chemical informatics to study olfaction at the University of Hertfordshire in England. Schmuker was not involved in the study, which he describes as “a real breakthrough.” [Continue reading…]

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