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Biological Chemistry

Fishing For The Scent Of Death

Identification of olfactory receptor sensitive to cadaverine could inform study of aversion and attraction

by Craig Bettenhausen
November 18, 2013 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 91, ISSUE 46

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Credit: Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA
The aversive effect of cadaverine (top) and the attractant effect of food odors on zebrafish can be observed in these motion traces of the fish swimming in an aquarium. The X on the left side of each trace shows where the odorant was added. Blue and red or green circles indicate the mean position of fish before and after adding odorant, respectively.
09146-scicon-smellofdeath.jpg
Credit: Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA
The aversive effect of cadaverine (top) and the attractant effect of food odors on zebrafish can be observed in these motion traces of the fish swimming in an aquarium. The X on the left side of each trace shows where the odorant was added. Blue and red or green circles indicate the mean position of fish before and after adding odorant, respectively.
[+]Enlarge
Credit: Shutterstock/C&EN
Zebrafish are repelled by the chemical products of microbe-mediated flesh decay.
09146-scicon-zebrafish.jpg
Credit: Shutterstock/C&EN
Zebrafish are repelled by the chemical products of microbe-mediated flesh decay.

The smell of decaying flesh is highly repellent to many species, but the chemical basis for that aversion has been elusive. Using zebrafish as a model organism, Sigrun I. Korsching of the University of Cologne, in Germany, and coworkers have for the first time identified an olfactory receptor, TAAR13c, that responds to cadaverine, a diamine that is the main odorant in rotting flesh (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2013, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1318596110). TAAR13c showed no response to related molecules lacking an amine at each end, suggesting the presence of two remote recognition sites on the receptor that must both be occupied to trigger a response. The receptor did respond to other C4 to C8 diamines, including putrescine, another product of protein decay. The identification of an olfactory sensor for such odors could provide researchers a chemical handle to study the biochemistry and neurology of aversion or attraction behaviors in animals related to zebrafish.

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