Ciliated sensory neurons, supporting cells and basal stem cells represent major cellular components of the main olfactory epithelium in mammals. Here we describe a novel class of sensory cells in the olfactory neuroepithelium. The cells express phospholipase C beta-2 (PLC beta 2), transient receptor potential channels 6 (TRPC6) and inositol 3, 4, 5-trisphosphate receptors type III (InsP(3)R-III). Unlike ciliated olfactory neurons, they express neither olfactory marker protein nor centrin, adenylyl cyclase or cyclic nucleotide-gated cation channels. Typical components of the cytoskeleton of microvilli, ezrin and actin are found co-localized with PLC beta 2 and TRPC6 in apical protrusions of the cells. In Ca2+-imaging experiments, the cells responded to odours. They express neuronal marker proteins and possess an axon-like process, but following bulbectomy the cells do not degenerate. Our results suggest a novel class of microvillous secondary chemosensory cells in the mammalian olfactory system. These cells, which utilize phosphatidyl-inositides in signal transduction, represent about 5% of all olfactory cells. Their abundance indicates that they play an important role in stimulus-dependent functions and/or the regeneration of the olfactory system.
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