Effects of neurotransmitters on cAMP-mediated signal transduction in frog olfactory receptor cells (ORCs) were studied using in situ spike recordings and radioimmunoassays. Carbachol, applied to the mucosal side of olfactory epithelium, amplified the electrical response of ORCs to cAMP-generating odorants, but did not affect unstimulated cells. A similar augmentation of odorant response was observed in the presence of phorbol dibutyrate (PDBu), an activator of protein kinase C (PKC). The electrical response to forskolin, an activator of adenylate cyclase (AC), was also enhanced by PDBu, and it was attenuated by the PKC inhibitor Goe 6983. Forskolin-induced accumulation of cAMP in olfactory tissue was potentiated by carbachol, serotonin, and PDBu to a similar extent. Potentiation was completely suppressed by the PKC inhibitors Goe 6983, staurosporine, and polymyxin B, suggesting that the sensitivity of olfactory AC to stimulation by odorants and forskolin was increased by PKC. Experiments with deciliated olfactory tissue indicated that sensitization of AC was restricted to sensory cilia of ORCs. To study the effects of cell Ca2+ on these mechanisms, the intracellular Ca2+ concentration of olfactory tissue was either increased by ionomycin or decreased by BAPTA/AM. Increasing cell Ca2+ had two effects on cAMP production: (a) the basal cAMP production was enhanced by a mechanism sensitive to inhibitors of calmodulin; and (b) similar to phorbol ester, cell Ca2+ caused sensitization of AC to stimulation by forskolin, an effect sensitive to Goe 6983. Decreasing cell Ca2+ below basal levels rendered AC unresponsive to stimulation by forskolin. These data suggest that a crosstalk mechanism is functional in frog ORCs, linking the sensitivity of AC to the activity of PKC. At increased activity of PKC, olfactory AC becomes more responsive to stimulation by odorants, forskolin, and cell Ca2+. Neurotransmitters appear to use this crosstalk mechanism to regulate olfactory sensitivity.

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