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In a sensory system, a sensory receptor is a sensory nerve ending that responds to a stimulus in the internal or external environment of an organism. In response to stimuli, the sensory receptor initiates sensory transduction by creating graded potentials or action potentials in the same cell or in an adjacent one.
The sensory receptors involved in taste and smell contain receptor molecules that bind to specific chemicals. Odor receptors in olfactory receptor neurons, for example, are activated by interacting with molecular structures on the odor molecule. Similarly, taste receptors (gustatory receptors) in taste buds interact with chemicals in food to produce an action potential.
Other receptors such as mechanoreceptors and photoreceptors respond to physical stimuli. For example, photoreceptor cells contain specialized proteins such as rhodopsin to transduce the physical energy in light into electrical signals. Some types of mechanoreceptors fire action potentials when their membranes are physically stretched.
The sensory receptor functions are the first component in a sensory system.
Sensory receptors respond to specific stimulus modalities. The stimulus modality to which a sensory receptor responds is determined by the sensory receptor's adequate stimulus.
The sensory receptor responds to its stimulus modality by initiating sensory transduction. This may be accomplished by a net shift in the initial states of a receptor (see a picture of these putative states  with the biophysical description ).
Sensory receptors can be classified by location:
Somatic sensory receptors near the surface of the skin can usually be divided into two groups based on morphology:
Different sensory receptors are innervated by different types of nerve fibers. Muscles and associated sensory receptors are innvervated by type I and II sensory fibers, while cutaneous receptors are innervated by Aβ, Aδ and C fibers.