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
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.
At last, butterflies get a bigger, better evolutionary tree
16.02.2018 | Florida Museum of Natural History
New treatment strategies for chronic kidney disease from the animal kingdom
16.02.2018 | Veterinärmedizinische Universität Wien
Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale
Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...
For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.
But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...
Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons are produced throughout life.
The generation of new nerve cells was once thought to taper off at the end of embryonic development. However, recent research has shown that the adult brain...
Theoretical physicists propose to use negative interference to control heat flow in quantum devices. Study published in Physical Review Letters
Quantum computer parts are sensitive and need to be cooled to very low temperatures. Their tiny size makes them particularly susceptible to a temperature...
Let’s say the armrest is broken in your vintage car. As things stand, you would need a lot of luck and persistence to find the right spare part. But in the world of Industrie 4.0 and production with batch sizes of one, you can simply scan the armrest and print it out. This is made possible by the first ever 3D scanner capable of working autonomously and in real time. The autonomous scanning system will be on display at the Hannover Messe Preview on February 6 and at the Hannover Messe proper from April 23 to 27, 2018 (Hall 6, Booth A30).
Part of the charm of vintage cars is that they stopped making them long ago, so it is special when you do see one out on the roads. If something breaks or...
15.02.2018 | Event News
13.02.2018 | Event News
12.02.2018 | Event News
16.02.2018 | Information Technology
16.02.2018 | Health and Medicine
16.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy