The olfactory receptors participate in molecular events of olfactory signaling. These events take place in the cilia of the olfactory receptors. As mentioned earlier, each receptor cell allows the binding of only one type of molecule.
The olfactory receptor proteins are present in the ciliary membrane and receive the olfactory signals.
Another protein called the “G protein” is bound to the olfactory receptors. It has three subunits-alpha, beta, and gamma.
The ciliary membrane also has closed calcium and chloride channels.
In the olfactory system, the odorant acts as the signaling molecule.
The odorant binds to the olfactory receptor through ligand binding and confers confirmatory changes in it.
During this process, the guanosine diphosphate (GDP) gets converted to guanosine triphosphate (GTP), which causes the dissociation of the G-alpha subunit.
The GTP then activates “adenylyl cyclase” and converts GTP into cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP).
The cyclic AMP travels to the calcium gated channels and opens them, increasing the intracellular concentration of calcium ions.
Additionally, these calcium ions have a positive effect on the chloride channels by opening them.
Therefore, the efflux of chloride ions depolarizes the cell and triggers an electric signal to the brain. Finally, the olfactory signals reach the brain through the olfactory receptors.
The function of olfactory receptors
The olfactory epithelium lines the nasal cavities, which contain several olfactory receptors. These are bipolar and have a single dendrite extending from the outermost epithelium. The cilia spread out over the olfactory epithelium. When specific odorants such as perfume or food enter the nasal cavity, these cilia receptors are stimulated and the olfactory receptors are depolarized. The action potential they generate progresses over the receptor cell’s axon and pass through the neighboring structure called the olfactory bulb neuron.
The first cranial nerve is the olfactory nerve, and it is located in the nasal epithelium.
The olfactory receptor cells’ axons converge on the dendrites of the olfactory bulb in a small cluster of glomeruli.
In this location, several olfactory bulb neurons form synaptic connections with the receptor cells. In addition, mitral cells and tufted relay neurons are also present, which extend into the olfactory tract (bundle of nerve fibers), where most of the olfactory processing occurs.
To sum it up, when a specific odorant binds to a receptor cell, it activates the receptor and generates an action potential inside it.
The action potential ends up at the glomerulus of the olfactory bulb. It is the site where it receives all the neural signals from the olfactory receptor cells.
These cells further synapse to another cell (mitral/tufted), which finally transmit the brain’s signals.
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