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a specialized sensory cell or cellular structure, for example, a nerve ending, by which animals and humans perceive chemical stimuli, including metabolic changes. The effect of chemical agents on the receptors, like that of other stimuli on the corresponding receptor cells, gives rise to bioelectric potentials in the chemoreceptors and related nerve cells. Some chemoreceptors are highly selective, reacting only to a single substance or to a small group of substances; examples are the chemoreceptors in insects that are sensitive to pheromenes or receptors that react to carbon dioxide.
External (sensory) chemoreceptors signal fluctuations in the pH and ion composition of water and in the composition of atmospheric gases. They also indicate the presence in the environment or oral cavity of nutrients, caustic or toxic substances, and special chemical signals exchanged between living organisms. Internal chemoreceptors, which are a type of interoceptor, are sensitive to the chemical constituents of blood and other internal fluids.
From the evolutionary standpoint, chemoreceptors are probably the most ancient receptor formations. The sensory chemoreceptors of vertebrates include the olfactory and gustatory cells situated in the organs of smell and taste, as well as the free nerve endings in the skin that perform the function of “general chemical sensation.” Olfactory and gustatory chemoreceptors are also distinguished on the basis of functional and morphological characteristics in some invertebrates, for example, insects. However, this distinction cannot always be made in the case of invertebrates, especially aquatic forms.
In molecular biology, the term “chemoreceptor” is also used to designate a subcellular formation, that is, a specialized macromolecular structure arranged on the external surface of the cell membrane, that interacts with the molecules of chemical stimuli. The term is also used to designate similar receptors in protozoans.
A. V. MINOR