Navigation Links
Mice that 'smell' light could help us better understand olfaction

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Harvard University neurobiologists have created mice that can "smell" light, providing a potent new tool that could help researchers better understand the neural basis of olfaction.

The work, described this week in the journal Nature Neuroscience, has implications for the future study of smell and of complex perception systems that do not lend themselves to easy study with traditional methods.

"It makes intuitive sense to use odors to study smell," says Venkatesh N. Murthy, professor of molecular and cellular biology at Harvard. "However, odors are so chemically complex that it is extremely difficult to isolate the neural circuits underlying smell that way."

Murthy and his colleagues at Harvard and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory used light instead, applying the infant field of optogenetics to the question of how cells in the brain differentiate between odors.

Optogenetic techniques integrate light-reactive proteins into systems that usually sense inputs other than light. Murthy and his colleagues integrated these proteins, called channelrhodopsins, into the olfactory systems of mice, creating animals in which smell pathways were activated not by odors, but rather by light.

"In order to tease apart how the brain perceives differences in odors, it seemed most reasonable to look at the patterns of activation in the brain," Murthy says. "But it is hard to trace these patterns using olfactory stimuli, since odors are very diverse and often quite subtle. So we asked: What if we make the nose act like a retina?"

With the optogenetically engineered animal, the scientists were able to characterize the patterns of activation in the olfactory bulb, the brain region that receives information directly from the nose. Because light input can easily be controlled, they were able to design a series of experiments stimulating specific sensory neurons in the nose and looking at the patterns of activation downstream in the olfactory bulb.

"The first question was how the processing is organized, and how similar inputs are processed by adjacent cells in the brain," Murthy says.

But it turns out that the spatial organization of olfactory information in the brain does not fully explain our ability to sense odors. The temporal organization of olfactory information sheds additional light on how we perceive odors. In addition to characterizing the spatial organization of the olfactory bulb, the new study shows how the timing of the "sniff" plays a large part in how odors are perceived.

The paper has implications not only for future study of the olfactory system, but more generally for teasing out the underlying neural circuits of other systems.


Contact: Steve Bradt
Harvard University

Related biology news :

1. New findings on taste and smell
2. Could smell play a role in the origin of new bird species?
3. Smelling the scenery in stereo
4. Monell Center joins with CAS to host Beijing meeting on taste and smell research
5. How the 100th protein structure solved at Diamond impacts our understanding of how insects smell
6. Stop and smell the flowers -- the scent really can soothe stress
7. Penn State entomologists seek fungus to blunt mosquitoes sense of smell
8. New findings in taste and smell
9. Rice University psychologist finds womens brains recognize, encode smell of male sexual sweat
10. Bumblebees learn the sweet smell of foraging success
11. Deprived of a sense of smell, worms live longer
Post Your Comments:
(Date:11/20/2015)... OXFORD, Connecticut , November 20, 2015 ... biometric authentication company focused on the growing mobile commerce ... its CEO, Gino Pereira , was recently interviewed ... The interview will air on this weekend on ... Bloomberg Latin America . --> NXTD ) ...
(Date:11/18/2015)... 2015  As new scientific discoveries deepen our understanding ... healthcare providers face challenges in better using that knowledge ... addition, as more children continue to survive pediatric cancer, ... old age. John M. Maris, M.D ., ... Philadelphia (CHOP) . --> John M. ...
(Date:11/17/2015)... -- Paris , qui s,est ... Paris , qui s,est tenu du 17 ... de l,innovation biométrique, a inventé le premier scanner couplé, ... la même surface de balayage. Jusqu,ici, deux scanners étaient ... empreintes digitales. Désormais, un seul scanner est en mesure ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/24/2015)... 2015 --> ... "Oligonucleotide Synthesis Market by Product & Services (Primer, Probe, ... DNA, RNAi), End-User (Research, Pharmaceutical & Biotech, Diagnostic Labs) ... market is expected to reach USD 1,918.6 Million by ... CAGR of 10.1% during the forecast period. ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... LEXINGTON, Massachusetts , November 24, 2015 ... Officer, will participate in the Piper Jaffray 27 th Annual ... on Tuesday, December 1, 2015, at 8:30 a.m. EST (1:30 p.m. ... Poulton , Chief Financial Officer, will participate in the Piper Jaffray ... City , NY on Tuesday, December 1, 2015, at 8:30 ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... Nov. 24, 2015 /PRNewswire/ - Aeterna Zentaris Inc. ... that the remaining 11,000 post-share consolidation (or 1,100,000 ... (the "Series B Warrants") subject to the previously ... November 23, 2015, which will result in the ... effect to the issuance of such shares, there ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... , ... November 24, 2015 , ... InSphero AG, the ... cell culture models, has promoted Melanie Aregger to serve as Chief Operating Officer. ... served on the management team and was promoted to Head of InSphero ...
Breaking Biology Technology: