In mammals, olfactory perception is based on the combinatorial activation of G protein-coupled receptors. Identifying the full repertoire of receptors activated by a given odorant in vivo, a quest that has been hampered for over 20 years by technical difficulties, would represent an important step in deciphering the rules governing chemoperception. We found that odorants induced a fast and reversible concentration-dependent decrease in the transcription of genes corresponding to activated receptors in intact mice. On the basis of this finding, we developed a large-scale transcriptomic approach to uncover receptor-ligand pairs in vivo. We identified the mouse and rat odorant receptor signatures corresponding to specific odorants. Finally, we found that this approach, which can be used for species for which no genomic sequence is available, is also applicable to non-vertebrate species such as Drosophila.
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