Olfactory receptor (OR) choice, the transcriptional activation of one out of thousands of available mammalian OR alleles is a poorly understood process. We previously demonstrated that in response to OR translation, the ER-resident kinase Perk phosphorylates the translation initiation factor eif2a, eliciting a signal that culminates in the stabilization of OR choice. Genetic experiments suggest that this feedback signal depends upon the transient but general attenuation of translation and the specific upregulation of translation of the nuclear isoform of transcription factor ATF5. Production of nuclear ATF5 enhances the transcription of Adenylyl cyclase 3 (Adcy3), which relieves the OR-induced ER stress and represses the expression of histone demethylase LSD1, allowing the terminal differentiation of olfactory neurons and making the expression of the chosen OR permanent. These observations pose significant questions regarding the molecular principles of this signaling pathway. Here, we propose experiments that seek to provide answers to these questions and to offer mechanistic insight into this novel use of the unfolded protein response pathway. Specifically, we propose biochemical and genetic experiments aiming to reveal whether OR proteins interact directly with Perk and to map the exact peptides responsible for Perk activation. Furthermore, we aim to elucidate the mechanism of action of ATF5 as transcriptional regulator and to explore the function of two distinct nuclear isoforms that, according to our preliminary genetic analysis, play different roles in the regulation of OR choice and the differentiation of olfactory neurons. Finally, we propose experiments that aim to dissect the concluding step of this signaling pathway, which is the relief of ER stress and the termination of OR-induced Perk signaling. Timely termination of this arm of the unfolded protein response is as critical for the stabilization of OR expression as the initiation of this pathway an we hypothesize that OR-specific chaperones play a critical role in preventing OR-Perk interactions in the ER. Genetic and biochemical experiments will reveal the identity of these proteins and examine their role in the OR-elicited feedback. Our experiments will provide novel insight into a process that has remained enigmatic since the discovery the largest mammalian gene family and will reveal regulatory principles that likely apply to many other chemoreceptor families mediating communication with the outside world.

Public Health Relevance

G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) are found in every cell of our body and their proper expression and function is essential our health and survival. Here, using as a model system the largest GPCR subfamily, the olfactory receptors, we propose to reveal the molecular mechanisms by which the cell detects GPCR expression and responds transcriptionally to accommodate the physiological functions imposed by the receptor protein. Our studies will reveal novel essential pathways for cellular differentiation and will uncover new pharmacological targets for diseases related to GPCR targeting, activity or stability of expression.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Research Project (R01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
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Sullivan, Susan L
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Columbia University (N.Y.)
Schools of Medicine
New York
United States
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