Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Long-Term Potentiation in the Olfactory Bulb

Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine researchers are the first to discover a form of synaptic memory in the olfactory bulb, the part of the brain that processes the sense of smell.

Ben W. Strowbridge, Ph.D, associate professor of Neuroscience and Physiology/Biophysics, and Yuan Gao, a Ph.D. student in the neurosciences program at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, are the first to discover a form of synaptic memory in the olfactory bulb, the part of the brain that processes the sense of smell.

Their study, entitled “Long-term plasticity of excitatory inputs to granule cells in the rat olfactory bulb” will be published in the June 2009 issue of Nature Neuroscience and is currently available online.

In the 1970s, scientists discovered that elemental connections between brain cells, called synapses, could change their strength following brief periods of activity. This process, called long-term potentiation (LTP), is the leading candidate to explain how we store information about specific places, names and events. While laboratories around the world have found LTP in nearly every part of the mammalian brain there was one glaring exception: the part of the brain that first processes the sense of smell, the olfactory bulb.

Gao, a fourth-year graduate student, had learned that damaging olfactory sensory pathways prevents sheep from forming selective bonds with her own lambs, causing them to adopt lambs from other mothers. This cued her curiosity as to how a mother ewe forms such a selective bond with her lamb within several hours of parturition, a bond that is primarily dependent on olfactory sensory recognition.

Using an innovative home-built laser microscope, Strowbridge and Gao were able to determine that the olfactory bulb does in fact have LTP. This specialized microscope used an advanced imaging technique called “2-photon excitation” which enabled the researchers to see entire brain cells and then test whether different types of inputs to the cell could mediate olfactory memory.

“The real surprise in the study was the specific brain connection that changed following experience. It was a rarely-studied brain projection from the cortex back to the olfactory bulb” said Strowbridge.

Neuroscientists commonly believe that the way the brain processes information is similar to climbing a pyramid—starting from the bottom and working up to the top. All of the sensory systems have a large number of low-level cells that do very simple things (forming the base of the pyramid), and then they feed their results to brain areas higher up the pyramid. The brain cells in these “higher” regions begin to reflect abstract concepts, such as the shape of human faces, in the visual system or melodies in the auditory system. The brain areas related to our conscious perception of the world are presumably at the top of pyramid.

However, the Case Western Reserve University researchers found that the brain circuit had the ability to change with experience was unexpectedly a connection from high in the pyramid (the olfactory cortex) back to a lower level (the olfactory bulb).

One of the implications of Strowbridge and Gao’s work is that the brain may learn about different smells by having higher brain areas first make a prediction about which scent it might be, and then test that prediction against the actual sensory data coming into the brain.

“Our work suggests that there is much more talking back-and-forth between higher and lower brain areas during olfactory learning,” continued Strowbridge. “We are just beginning to explore the function of the feedback circuits that inform low-level parts of the brain, like the olfactory bulb, about predictions made by higher-order brain regions. The 2-photon microscope used in this study is an ideal tool to ask what these different brain circuits are actually doing.”

Previous studies had suggested that the circuit changes associated with olfactory learning, such as sheep learning to recognize their own lambs though their characteristic scents, involved changes in the olfactory bulb. Strowbridge and Gao discovered that certain olfactory brain circuits can change with experience. This discovery provides a possible explanation for how animals can form memories of particular scents.

In 2006, Strowbridge’s grouped discovered a new type of brain cell, the Blanes cell, in the olfactory bulb, also using the same home-built 2-photon microscope. Ramón y Cajal, an important Spanish anatomist, had drawn pictures of these cells and named them for one of his medical students in the late 1800s. They stayed a curiosity item in very old textbooks until Strowbridge’s laboratory found that they represented a very important cell type in the brain. Using 2-photon imaging, the CWRU group showed that Blanes cells have unusual properties that may help the brain maintain memories of smells and also opened a new approach to understanding the basis of memory impairment in Alzheimer’s disease. That study was published in the March 16, 2006 issue of the journal Neuron.

This study was funded by the National Institutes of Health. The 2-photon laser microscope used in the study was constructed with support from the Mount Sinai Health Care Foundation.

About Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine
Founded in 1843, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine is the largest medical research institution in Ohio and is among the nation’s top medical schools for research funding from the National Institutes of Health. The School of Medicine is recognized throughout the international medical community for outstanding achievements in teaching. The School’s innovative and pioneering Western Reserve2 curriculum interweaves four themes--research and scholarship, clinical mastery, leadership, and civic professionalism--to prepare students for the practice of evidence-based medicine in the rapidly changing health care environment of the 21st century. Eleven Nobel Laureates have been affiliated with the school.

Annually, the School of Medicine trains more than 770 M.D. and M.D./Ph.D. students and ranks in the top 25 among U.S. research-oriented medical schools as designated by U.S. News and World Report “Guide to Graduate Education.”

The School of Medicine’s primary clinical affiliate is University Hospitals Case Medical Center and is additionally affiliated with MetroHealth Medical Center, the Louis Stokes Cleveland Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and the Cleveland Clinic, with which it established the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University in 2002.

Christina DeAngelis | Newswise Science News
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Gene therapy shows promise for treating Niemann-Pick disease type C1
27.10.2016 | NIH/National Human Genome Research Institute

nachricht 'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape
27.10.2016 | International School of Advanced Studies (SISSA)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

How nanoscience will improve our health and lives in the coming years

27.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

OU-led team discovers rare, newborn tri-star system using ALMA

27.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>