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Odor molecule-olfactory receptor interactions

The nature of the interaction between an odor molecule and an olfactory receptor protein defines the way that information about the identity of the odor molecule is encoded by the brain.

Rather than the traditional idea of key and lock, the more likely mechanism involves a broad graded reactivity between many receptors with different specificities of binding regions.

For an interest in integrative neuroscience, this molecular mechanism is critical in giving insight into the primitives that are the basis for encoding olfactory information.

The first modeling studies were carried out by a talented undergraduate, then graduate student, Michael Singer (Singer et al, 1995; Singer, 2000) and by the Firestein lab (2000).

The modeling studies provide support for binding regions that are optimal for certain odor molecules but can interact to varying degrees with a range of others, showing close resemblance to the tuning curves for the first receptors identified and their odor molecule preferences.