The vertebrate olfactory receptor (OR) subgenome harbors the largest known gene family, which has been expanded by the need to provide recognition capacity for millions of potential odorants. We implemented an automated procedure to identify all OR coding regions from published sequences. This led us to the identification of 831 OR coding regions (including pseudogenes) from 24 vertebrate species. The resulting dataset was subjected to neighbor-joining phylogenetic analysis and classified into 32 distinct families, 14 of which include only genes from tetrapodan species (Class II ORs). We also report here the first identification of OR sequences from a marsupial (koala) and a monotreme (platypus). Analysis of these OR sequences suggests that the ancestral mammal had a small OR repertoire, which expanded independently in all three mammalian subclasses. Classification of "fish-like" (Class I) ORs indicates that some of these ancient ORs were maintained and even expanded in mammals. A nomenclature system for the OR gene superfamily is proposed, based on a divergence evolutionary model. The nomenclature consists of the root symbol 'OR', followed by a family numeral, subfamily letter(s), and a numeral representing the individual gene within the subfamily. For example, OR3A1 is an OR gene of family 3, subfamily A, and OR7E12P is an OR pseudogene of family 7, subfamily E. The symbol is to be preceded by a species indicator. We have assigned the proposed nomenclature symbols for all 330 human OR genes in the database. A WWW tool for automated name assignment is provided.
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