Olfactory receptor neurons were isolated without enzymes from the mudpuppy, Necturus maculosus, and tested for chemosensitivity. The cells responded to odorants with changes in firing frequency and alterations in excitability that were detected with tight-seal patch electrodes using on-cell and whole-cell recording conditions. Chemosensitive cells exhibited two primary response characteristics: excitation and inhibition. Both types of primary response were observed in different cells stimulated by mixtures of amino acids as well as by the single compound L-alanine, suggesting that there may be more than one transduction pathway for some odorants. Using the normal whole-cell recording method, the chemosensitivity of competent cells washed out rapidly; a resistive whole-cell method was used to record odorant responses under current-clamp conditions. In response to chemical stimulation, excitability appeared to be modulated in several different ways in different cells: odorants induced hyperpolarizing or depolarizing receptor potentials, elicited or inhibited transient, rhythmic generator potentials, and altered excitability without changing the membrane potential or input resistance. These effects suggest that olfactory transduction is mediated through at least three different pathways with effects on four or more components of the membrane conductance. Polychotomous pathways such as these may be important for odor discrimination and for sharpening the "odor image" generated in the olfactory epithelium.

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