Olfactory systems sense and respond to various odorants. Olfactory receptors, which in most organisms are G protein (heterotrimeric guanine nucleotide-binding protein)-coupled receptors, directly bind volatile or soluble odorants. Compared to the genomes of mammals, the genome of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans contains more putative olfactory receptor genes, suggesting that in nematodes there may be combinatorial complexity to the receptor-odor relationship. We used RNA interference (RNAi) screening to identify nematode olfactory receptors necessary for the response to specific odorants. This screening identified 194 candidate olfactory receptor genes linked to 11 odorants. Additionally, we identified SRI-14 as being involved in sensing high concentrations of diacetyl. Rescue and neuron-specific RNAi experiments demonstrated that SRI-14 functioned in ASH neurons, specific chemosensory neurons, resulting in avoidance responses. Calcium imaging revealed that ASH neurons responded to high diacetyl concentrations only, whereas another class of chemosensory neurons, AWA neurons, reacted to both low and high concentrations. Loss of SRI-14 function hampered ASH responses to high diacetyl concentrations, whereas loss of ODR-10 function reduced AWA responses to low odorant concentrations. Chemosensory neurons ectopically expressing SRI-14 responded to a high concentration of diacetyl. Thus, nematodes have concentration-dependent odor-sensing mechanisms that are segregated at the olfactory receptor and sensory neuron levels.
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