Amino Acid Residues Contributing to Function of the Heteromeric Insect Olfactory Receptor Complex

Olfactory receptors (Ors) convert chemical signals—the binding of odors and pheromones—to electrical signals through the depolarization of olfactory sensory neurons. Vertebrates Ors are G-protein-coupled receptors, stimulated by odors to produce intracellular second messengers that gate ion channels. Insect Ors are a heteromultimeric complex of unknown stoichiometry of two seven transmembrane domain proteins with no sequence similarity to and the opposite membrane topology of G-protein-coupled receptors. The functional insect Or comprises an odor- or pheromone-specific Or subunit and the Orco co-receptor, which is highly conserved in all insect species. The insect Or-Orco complex has been proposed to function as a novel type of ligand-gated nonselective cation channel possibly modulated by G-proteins. However, the Or-Orco proteins lack homology to any known family of ion channel and lack known functional domains. Therefore, the mechanisms by which odors activate the Or-Orco complex and how ions permeate this complex remain unknown. To begin to address the relationship between Or-Orco structure and function, we performed site-directed mutagenesis of all 83 conserved Glu, Asp, or Tyr residues in the silkmoth BmOr-1-Orco pheromone receptor complex and measured functional properties of mutant channels expressed in Xenopus oocytes. 13 of 83 mutations in BmOr-1 and BmOrco altered the reversal potential and rectification index of the BmOr-1-Orco complex. Three of the 13 amino acids (D299 and E356 in BmOr-1 and Y464 in BmOrco) altered both current-voltage relationships and K+ selectivity. We introduced the homologous Orco Y464 residue into Drosophila Orco in vivo, and observed variable effects on spontaneous and evoked action potentials in olfactory neurons that depended on the particular Or-Orco complex examined. Our results provide evidence that a subset of conserved Glu, Asp and Tyr residues in both subunits are essential for channel activity of the heteromeric insect Or-Orco complex.