The mammalian olfactory system can recognize and discriminate a large number of different odorant molecules. The detection of chemically distinct odorants presumably results from the association of odorous ligands with specific receptors on olfactory sensory neurons. To address the problem of olfactory perception at a molecular level, we have cloned and characterized 18 different members of an extremely large multigene family that encodes seven transmembrane domain proteins whose expression is restricted to the olfactory epithelium. The members of this novel gene family are likely to encode a diverse family of odorant receptors.
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