Richard Axel, MD

Mammals possess an olfactory system of inordinate discriminatory power. We are studying how the diversity and specificity of olfactory perception is accomplished. Our analysis of the patterns of expression of the odorant receptor genes, coupled with earlier electrophysiologic experiments have provided a logic for olfactory discrimination. Individual olfactory sensory neurons express only one of a thousand receptor genes. Neurons expressing a given receptor, although randomly distributed in domains in the epithelium, project their axons to a small number of topographically fixed loci or glomeruli in the olfactory bulb. These data support a model of olfactory coding in which discrimination of odor quality would result from the detection of specific spatial patterns of activity in the olfactory bulb.

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