Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


RUB-Researchers decipher interaction of fragrances and olfactory receptors

Angewandte Chemie: three-dimensional structure and hydrogen bridge pattern explained

Banana, mango or apricot - telling these smells apart is no problem for the human nose. How the olfactory organ distinguishes such similar smells has been uncovered by an interdisciplinary team of researchers at the RUB. The scientists were the first to shed light on the dynamics of the three-dimensional structure of the binding site of an olfactory receptor.

In so doing, they also found a characteristic pattern of hydrogen bonds between odorant and receptor, which accounts for the specificity of the olfactory sensors. Using computer simulations, the RUB team was able to predict whether odorant molecules activate a certain receptor or not. “A dream of science and industry is coming true” says smell expert Prof. Dr. Dr. Dr. Hanns Hatt (Department of Cell Physiology). The study was chosen as cover story of the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

Computer model and living cells

The human nose has about 350 different types of olfactory receptors, each specialising in one or a few smells. “The receptor is like a door lock which can only be opened by the right key” says Dr. Lian Gelis from the Department of Cell Physiology. How the lock is exactly constructed was previously unknown. To solve the puzzle, Dr. Steffen Wolf and Prof. Dr. Klaus Gerwert (Department of Biophysics) set out by creating a computer model of the human olfactory receptor for the smell of apricots. In the model, they mutated several components (amino acids) in the binding site of the protein and predicted whether these receptor variants bind apricot fragrance or not. Gelis und Hatt then verified these predictions using “Ca2+-imaging” on the receptors in the physiological system.

Tango of the molecules

In this way, the researchers showed how the binding site has to be structurally constituted so that the apricot fragrance activates the receptor. Using molecular dynamics simulations, they then analysed the two binding partners in greater depth. They found that, in the dynamic interplay of the interaction between receptor and odorant molecule, specific chemical bonds, called hydrogen bridges, form and separate. “It’s like a tango, where the female dancer constantly separates from her partner and joins him again at another point” explains Gerwert. “The receptor uses the dynamic hydrogen bonding pattern to distinguish between activating and non-activating odours."

Predictions for other olfactory receptors

The researchers established how many molecular junctions the interaction partners have to form in order for a smell to activate an olfactory receptor. They also managed to specifically manipulate a receptor protein in the model and in the experiment so that it detected papaya fragrance instead of apricot fragrance. “The findings can help to generate specific ‘super-olfactory sensors’ for a defined fragrance” says Hatt. “Since olfactory receptors not only occur in the nose, but also in many other tissues in the human body, for example in the prostate, in sperm, and in the intestines, the results may help to develop novel therapeutic approaches”. The work was carried out as part of the Collaborative Research Centre SFB 642. The Mercator Foundation supported Prof. Gerwert with a grant.

Bibliographic record

L. Gelis, S. Wolf, H. Hatt, E.M. Neuhaus, K. Gerwert (2011): Prediction of a ligand-binding niche within a human olfactory receptor by combining site-directed mutagenesis with dynamic homology modelling, Angewandte Chemie, International Edition, doi: 10.1002/ange.201103980

Further information

Prof. Dr. Klaus Gerwert, Department of Biophysics, Faculty of Biology and Biotechnology at the Ruhr-Universität, 44780 Bochum, tel.: +49/234/32-24461

Prof. Dr. Dr. Dr. Hanns Hatt, Department of Cell Physiology, Faculty of Biology and Biotechnology at the Ruhr-Universität, 44780 Bochum, tel.: +49/234/32-24586

Click for more

Early View Articles in “Angewandte Chemie”
Department of Cell Physiology
Department of Biophysics
Dr. Julia Weiler

Dr. Josef König | idw
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>