Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Olfactory bulb


Juxtaglomerular neurons represent one of the largest cellular populations in the mammalian olfactory bulb yet their role for signal processing remains unclear. We used two-photon imaging and electrophysiological recordings to clarify the properties of these cells and their functional organization in the juxtaglomerular space. Juxtaglomerular neurons coded for many perceptual characteristics of the olfactory stimulus such as (1) identity of the odorant, (2) odorant concentration, (3) odorant onset, and (4) offset. The odor-responsive neurons clustered within a narrow area surrounding the glomerulus with the same odorant specificity, with ~80% of responding cells located ≤20 μm from the glomerular border. This stereotypic spatial pattern of activated cells persisted at different odorant concentrations and was found for neurons both activated and inhibited by the odorant. Our data identify a principal glomerulus with a narrow shell of juxtaglomerular neurons as a basic odor coding unit in the glomerular layer and underline the important role of intraglomerular circuitry.

Concepts: Nephron, Action potential, Olfactory bulb, Olfactory receptor neuron, Olfaction, Olfactory system, Potassium, Odor


The aim of this study was to assess whether migration of thallium-201 (Tl) to the olfactory bulb were reduced in patients with olfactory impairments in comparison to healthy volunteers after nasal administration of Tl.

Concepts: Assessment, Olfactory bulb, Olfactory receptor neuron, Olfaction, Olfactory system, Olfactory nerve, Nasal cavity


Most natural odors have sparse molecular composition. This makes the principles of compressed sensing potentially relevant to the structure of the olfactory code. Yet, the largely feedforward organization of the olfactory system precludes reconstruction using standard compressed sensing algorithms. To resolve this problem, recent theoretical work has shown that signal reconstruction could take place as a result of a low dimensional dynamical system converging to one of its attractor states. However, the dynamical aspects of optimization slowed down odor recognition and were also found to be susceptible to noise. Here we describe a feedforward model of the olfactory system that achieves both strong compression and fast reconstruction that is also robust to noise. A key feature of the proposed model is a specific relationship between how odors are represented at the glomeruli stage, which corresponds to a compression, and the connections from glomeruli to third-order neurons (neurons in the olfactory cortex of vertebrates or Kenyon cells in the mushroom body of insects), which in the model corresponds to reconstruction. We show that should this specific relationship hold true, the reconstruction will be both fast and robust to noise, and in particular to the false activation of glomeruli. The predicted connectivity rate from glomeruli to third-order neurons can be tested experimentally.

Concepts: Mathematics, Olfactory bulb, Olfaction, Olfactory system, Odor, Attractor, Dynamical system, Lorenz attractor


Shearwaters deprived of their olfactory sense before being displaced to distant sites have impaired homing ability but it is unknown what the role of olfaction is when birds navigate freely without their sense of smell. Furthermore, treatments used to induce anosmia and to disrupt magneto-reception in displacement experiments might influence non-specific factors not directly related to navigation and, as a consequence, the results of displacement experiments can have multiple interpretations. To address this, we GPS-tracked the free-ranging foraging trips of incubating Scopoli’s shearwaters within the Mediterranean Sea. As in previous experiments, shearwaters were either made anosmic with 4% zinc sulphate solution, magnetically impaired by attachment of a strong neodymium magnet or were controls. We found that birds from all three treatments embarked on foraging trips, had indistinguishable at-sea schedules of behaviour and returned to the colony having gained mass. However, we found that in the pelagic return stage of their foraging trips, anosmic birds were not oriented towards the colony though coastal navigation was unaffected. These results support the case for zinc sulphate having a specific effect on the navigational ability of shearwaters and thus the view that seabirds consult an olfactory map to guide them across seascapes.

Concepts: Bird, Sense, Olfactory bulb, Olfaction, Taste, Odor, Anosmia, Hyposmia


The sense of smell is found widely in the animal kingdom. Human and animal studies show that odor perception is modulated by experience and/or physiological state (such as hunger), and that some odors can arouse emotion, and can lead to the recall of emotional memories. Further, odors can influence psychological and physiological states. Individual odorants are mapped via gene-specified receptors to corresponding glomeruli in the olfactory bulb, which directly projects to the piriform cortex and the amygdala without a thalamic relay. The odors to which a glomerulus responds reflect the chemical structure of the odorant. The piriform cortex and the amygdala both project to the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) which with the amygdala is involved in emotion and associative learning, and to the entorhinal/hippocampal system which is involved in long-term memory including episodic memory. Evidence that some odors can modulate emotion and cognition is described, and the possible implications for the treatment of psychological problems, for example in reducing the effects of stress, are considered.

Concepts: Psychology, Memory, Cerebrum, Hippocampus, Olfactory bulb, Olfaction, Limbic system, Odor


Olfactory inputs help coordinate food appreciation and selection, but their role in systemic physiology and energy balance is poorly understood. Here we demonstrate that mice upon conditional ablation of mature olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) are resistant to diet-induced obesity accompanied by increased thermogenesis in brown and inguinal fat depots. Acute loss of smell perception after obesity onset not only abrogated further weight gain but also improved fat mass and insulin resistance. Reduced olfactory input stimulates sympathetic nerve activity, resulting in activation of β-adrenergic receptors on white and brown adipocytes to promote lipolysis. Conversely, conditional ablation of the IGF1 receptor in OSNs enhances olfactory performance in mice and leads to increased adiposity and insulin resistance. These findings unravel a new bidirectional function for the olfactory system in controlling energy homeostasis in response to sensory and hormonal signals.

Concepts: Metabolism, Hormone, Obesity, Adipose tissue, Sense, Olfactory bulb, Olfactory receptor neuron, Olfaction


The hippocampus is traditionally thought to transmit contextual information to limbic structures where it acquires valence. Using freely moving calcium imaging and optogenetics, we show that while the dorsal CA1 subregion of the hippocampus is enriched in place cells, ventral CA1 (vCA1) is enriched in anxiety cells that are activated by anxiogenic environments and required for avoidance behavior. Imaging cells defined by their projection target revealed that anxiety cells were enriched in the vCA1 population projecting to the lateral hypothalamic area (LHA) but not to the basal amygdala (BA). Consistent with this selectivity, optogenetic activation of vCA1 terminals in LHA but not BA increased anxiety and avoidance, while activation of terminals in BA but not LHA impaired contextual fear memory. Thus, the hippocampus encodes not only neutral but also valence-related contextual information, and the vCA1-LHA pathway is a direct route by which the hippocampus can rapidly influence innate anxiety behavior.

Concepts: Psychology, Amygdala, Memory, Cerebrum, Hippocampus, Olfactory bulb, Limbic system, Social anxiety disorder


The need to breathe links the mammalian olfactory system inextricably to the respiratory rhythms that draw air through the nose. In rodents and other small animals, slow oscillations of local field potential activity are driven at the rate of breathing (∼2-12 Hz) in olfactory bulb and cortex, and faster oscillatory bursts are coupled to specific phases of the respiratory cycle. These dynamic rhythms are thought to regulate cortical excitability and coordinate network interactions, helping to shape olfactory coding, memory, and behavior. However, while respiratory oscillations are a ubiquitous hallmark of olfactory system function in animals, direct evidence for such patterns is lacking in humans. In this study, we acquired intracranial EEG data from rare patients (Ps) with medically refractory epilepsy, enabling us to test the hypothesis that cortical oscillatory activity would be entrained to the human respiratory cycle, albeit at the much slower rhythm of ∼0.16-0.33 Hz. Our results reveal that natural breathing synchronizes electrical activity in human piriform (olfactory) cortex, as well as in limbic-related brain areas, including amygdala and hippocampus. Notably, oscillatory power peaked during inspiration and dissipated when breathing was diverted from nose to mouth. Parallel behavioral experiments showed that breathing phase enhances fear discrimination and memory retrieval. Our findings provide a unique framework for understanding the pivotal role of nasal breathing in coordinating neuronal oscillations to support stimulus processing and behavior.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Cerebrum, Hippocampus, Olfactory bulb, Olfaction, Limbic system, Nasal cavity


Dense microcircuit reconstruction techniques have begun to provide ultrafine insight into the architecture of small-scale networks. However, identifying the totality of cells belonging to such neuronal modules, the “inputs” and “outputs,” remains a major challenge. Here, we present the development of nanoengineered electroporation microelectrodes (NEMs) for comprehensive manipulation of a substantial volume of neuronal tissue. Combining finite element modeling and focused ion beam milling, NEMs permit substantially higher stimulation intensities compared to conventional glass capillaries, allowing for larger volumes configurable to the geometry of the target circuit. We apply NEMs to achieve near-complete labeling of the neuronal network associated with a genetically identified olfactory glomerulus. This allows us to detect sparse higher-order features of the wiring architecture that are inaccessible to statistical labeling approaches. Thus, NEM labeling provides crucial complementary information to dense circuit reconstruction techniques. Relying solely on targeting an electrode to the region of interest and passive biophysical properties largely common across cell types, this can easily be employed anywhere in the CNS.

Concepts: Cathode, Cell, Density, Finite element method, Olfactory bulb, Olfactory system, Potassium, Electrode


Olfaction is an important sensory modality driving fundamental behaviors. During odor-dependent learning, a positive value is commonly assigned to an odorant, and multiple forms of plasticity are involved when such odor-reward associations are formed. In rodents, one of the mechanisms underlying plasticity in the olfactory bulb consists in recruiting new neurons daily throughout life. However, it is still unknown whether adult-born neurons might participate in encoding odor value. Here, we demonstrate that exposure to reward-associated odors specifically increases activity of adult-born neurons but not preexisting neurons. Remarkably, adult-born neuron activation during rewarded odor presentation heightens discrimination learning and enhances the ability to update the odor value during reversal association. Moreover, in some cases, activation of this interneuron population can trigger olfactory learning without sensory stimulation. Taken together, our results show a specific involvement of adult-born neurons in facilitating odor-reward association during adaptive learning.

Concepts: Brain, Action potential, Olfactory bulb, Olfaction, Odor, Olfactory fatigue, Electronic nose, Olfactometer