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Do We Owe Our Sense of Smell to Epigenetics? Print
Monday, 04 March 2013 00:00

Since mammals typically have thousands of types of olfactory receptor genes, biologists have long wondered how it’s possible that each olfactory sensory neuron is equipped with only one kind. A team of researchers led by Stavros Lamvardas of the University of California, San Francisco used the Advanced Light Source’s National Center for X-ray Tomography, led by Carolyn Larabell and Mark LeGros, to help understand the unique epigenetic mechanism by which each olfactory nerve cell sequesters all but a single receptor gene.

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At left, the nucleus of a mouse olfactory sensory neuron (white outline) shows concentrations of dense heterochromatin surrounded by a handful of loci where silent olfactory receptor (OR) genes are sequestered. At right, the cell’s single active OR gene resides near the silent gene loci, but in euchromatin, not heterochromatin. (Different colors indicate different staining techniques.) (Images by Lomvardas lab)