The mouse olfactory mucosa is a complex chemosensory tissue composed of multiple cell types, neuronal and non-neuronal. We have here applied RNA-seq hierarchically, in three steps of decreasing cellular heterogeneity: starting with crude tissue samples dissected from the nose, proceeding to flow-cytometrically sorted pools of mature olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs), and finally arriving at single mature OSNs. We show that 98.9% of intact olfactory receptor (OR) genes are expressed in mature OSNs. We uncover a hitherto unknown bipartition among mature OSNs. We find that 19 of 21 single mature OSNs each express a single intact OR gene abundantly, consistent with the one neuron-one receptor rule. For the 9 single OSNs where the two alleles of the abundantly expressed OR gene exhibit single-nucleotide polymorphisms, we demonstrate that monoallelic expression of the abundantly expressed OR gene is extremely tight. The remaining two single mature OSNs lack OR gene expression but express Trpc2 and Gucy1b2. We establish these two cells as a neuronal cell type that is fundamentally distinct from canonical, OR-expressing OSNs and that is defined by the differential, higher expression of 55 genes. We propose this tiered experimental approach as a paradigm to unravel gene expression in other cellularly heterogeneous systems.
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