Preferential binding of an odor within olfactory receptors: A precursor to receptor activation

Peter C. Lai, Brandon Guida, Jing Shi, Chiquito J. Crasto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Using computational methods, which allow mechanistic insights at a molecular level, we explored the olfactory receptor (OR)-odor interactions for 2 mouse ORs, S79 and S86. Both ORs have been previously experimentally, functionally characterized. The odors used were mostly carboxylic acids, which differed in chain length, substituents on the primary carbon atom-chain and degree of unsaturation. These odors elicited varied activation responses from both ORs. Our studies revealed that both receptors have 2 distinct binding sites. Preferential binding in 1 of the 2 sites is correlated with OR activation. The activating odorants: nonanedioic acid, heptanoic acid, and octanoic acid for OR S79 and nonanoic acid for OR S86 preferentially bind in the region bound by transmembranes (TMs [helical domains]) III, IV, V, and VI. The non excitatory odorants heptanol for S79 and heptanoic acid for S86 showed a greater likelihood of binding in the region bound by TMs I, II, III, and VII. Nanosecond-scale molecular dynamics simulations of the physiologically relevant conditions of docked OR-odorant complexes enabled us to quantitatively assess the roles of individual OR amino acids in odor binding. Amino acid-odorant contact maps and distance determinations over the course of the simulations lend support to our conclusions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-123
Number of pages17
JournalChemical Senses
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2014


  • Docking
  • Molecular dynamics
  • Odorant binding
  • Olfactory receptor


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