AsianScientist (May 10, 2016) – Researchers in Japan have identified olfactory receptors for musk odors in a range of mammals, and examined how the protein responds to musk odors. They also discovered that a single olfactory receptor protein that affects perception of musk odor in both mice and humans. Their work was published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Because of their fascinating scent, musk odors have been used widely in perfumes since ancient times. However, the cosmetic industry has recently faced difficulty in obtaining natural musks such as muscone, a rare compound. While there are many chemical compounds that mimic the aroma of muscone, their chemical structures differ considerably and it is not known why they smell the same to us.
Led by Professor Kazushige Touhara and Project Assistant Professor Mika Shirasu in the University of Tokyo Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences, the researchers identified the olfactory receptors for musk odors in a range of mammals, and examined how the protein responds to musk odors.
The research group recently identified new olfactory receptor (OR) proteins that are sensitive to muscone in four species of primates. The group had identified one muscone OR each in mice and humans in prior research, so this time they investigated the mechanism by which all of these ORs detected musk odors.
In particular, the response of the human muscone receptor OR5AN1 to a variety of musk scents closely reflects human perception of musk odors as strong or weak and the quality of the odor. In other words, odorants that activate OR5AN1 tend to have musk odor.
Moreover, in case of mice, genetic deletion of the most sensitive musk receptor, MOR215-1, resulted in drastic reduction of sensitivity to muscone, suggesting that MOR215-1 plays a critical role in muscone perception.
“In this study, we clarified the sensing mechanism for musk odors,” said Shirasu. “We hope that the strategy established for screening compounds that activate the human muscone OR will facilitate the development of novel and commercially useful musk odors.”
Source: University of Tokyo.
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