Insect odorant receptors (ORs) show a limited functional expression in various heterologous expression systems including insect and mammalian cells. This may be in part due to the absence of key components driving the release of these proteins from the endoplasmic reticulum and directing them to the plasma membrane. In order to mitigate this problem, we took advantage of small export signals within the human HCN1 and Rhodopsin that have been shown to promote protein release from the endoplasmic reticulum and the trafficking of post-Golgi vesicles, respectively. Moreover, we designed a new vector based on a bidirectional expression cassette to drive the functional expression of the insect odorant receptor coreceptor (Orco) and an odor-binding OR, simultaneously. We show that this new method can be used to reliably express insect ORs in HEK293 cells via transient transfection and that is highly suitable for downstream applications using automated and high-throughput imaging platforms.

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