Many species are critically dependent on olfaction for survival. In the main olfactory system of mammals, odours are detected by sensory neurons that express a large repertoire of canonical odorant receptors and a much smaller repertoire of trace amine-associated receptors (TAARs). Odours are encoded in a combinatorial fashion across glomeruli in the main olfactory bulb, with each glomerulus corresponding to a specific receptor. The degree to which individual receptor genes contribute to odour perception is unclear. Here we show that genetic deletion of the olfactory Taar gene family, or even a single Taar gene (Taar4), eliminates the aversion that mice display to low concentrations of volatile amines and to the odour of predator urine. Our findings identify a role for the TAARs in olfaction, namely, in the high-sensitivity detection of innately aversive odours. In addition, our data reveal that aversive amines are represented in a non-redundant fashion, and that individual main olfactory receptor genes can contribute substantially to odour perception.
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