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Mice can inherit learned sensitivity to a smell
Date:12/2/2013

and Ressler took advantage of previous research on the biology of odor detection. Scientists knew that the chemical acetophenone activates a particular set of cells in the nose and a particular "odorant receptor" gene in those cells. [Acetophenone smells somewhat like cherry blossom.]

Both a father mouse who has been sensitized to a smell and his pups have more space in the smell-processing part of their brains, called the olfactory bulb, devoted to the odor to which they are sensitive (see figure).

Dias found that both mothers and fathers can pass on a learned sensitivity to an odor, although mothers can't do it with fostered pups, showing that the sensitivity is not transmitted by social interaction. Future mothers receive their odor-shock training before (and not during) conception and pregnancy.

The inheritance takes place even if the mice are conceived by in vitro fertilization, and the sensitivity even appears in the second generation (grandchildren). This indicates that somehow, information about the experience connected with the odor is being transmitted via the sperm or eggs.

Dias discovered that the DNA from the sperm of smell-sensitized father mice is altered. This is an example of an "epigenetic" alteration: transmitted not in the letter-by-letter sequence of the DNA, but in its packaging or chemical modifications.

In mice taught to fear acetophenone, the odorant receptor gene that responds to acetophenone has a changed pattern of methylation: a chemical modification of DNA that tunes the activity of genes. However, it's not clear whether the changes in that gene are enough to make the difference in an animal's odor sensitivity.

"While the sequence of the gene encoding the receptor that responds to the odor is unchanged, the way that gene is regulated may be affected," Ressler says. "There is some evidence that some of the generalized effects of diet and hormone changes, as well as trauma, can be tran
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Contact: Quinn Eastman
qeastma@emory.edu
404-727-7829
Emory Health Sciences
Source:Eurekalert  

Page: 1 2 3

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