Research Topic

Functional and Structural plasticity in the Olfactory System: A Comparative Survey of the Different Olfactory Sub-circuits

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Olfactory information processing requires the interaction of several brain areas and is crucial for the most basic goal-driven behaviors such as feeding, mating, predator avoidance and territoriality. This is due to the integration of olfactory circuits with brain systems involved in regulation of hormonal ...

Olfactory information processing requires the interaction of several brain areas and is crucial for the most basic goal-driven behaviors such as feeding, mating, predator avoidance and territoriality. This is due to the integration of olfactory circuits with brain systems involved in regulation of hormonal milieu, of emotional reactivity and of reward assessment. The olfactory system is itself complex, since it comprises several peripheral organs, whose sensitivity partially overlaps. Besides the main olfactory epithelium, in the nose of most mammals we can find the vomeronasal organ, the septal organ of Masera and the Grüneberg ganglion. These different olfactory sub-systems are sensitive to different categories of chemical cues, each of them potentially detecting a wide variety of compounds through a specialized array of receptor neurons. However, when conveyed centrally, these different inputs converge to highly interconnected systems in the brain, altogether contributing to the multidimensional nature of each chemosensory percept.

The intricate connectivity of the olfactory circuits is further complicated by morphological and functional changes occurring during development, and poses the need for a systemic approach to advance the comprehension of how this chemical sense is organized.

Indeed, each olfactory sub-system shows a high degree of neuronal plasticity both in the peripheral organs where new neurons differentiate throughout life, and in the first processing unit, the olfactory bulb, where new cells are added by differentiating progenitors migrating from germinative layers lining the lateral ventricles. In addition, the connectivity between the sensory neurons and olfactory bulb is highly sensitive to olfactory sensory activity, posing the important question – still unanswered - of how this sensory system maintains a reliable and stable encoding of sensory information.

Within this Research Topic, we plan to collect updated hints on the functions of the various chemosensory subsystems, their integration, and the role of structural and functional plasticity to achieve the final chemosensory perception in the attempt to fill this gap of knowledge.

To achieve this target, we will encourage a series of colleagues which explore many different areas of chemosensory processing in different physiological conditions, by using a variety of techniques, from electrophysiology to anatomy and behavior. We’ll aim to elucidate the common mechanisms underlying chemosensory processing – a kind of comparison that may be interesting for both neurobiologists and engineers which aim at implementing artificial biomimetic chemosensory units.


Keywords: Olfaction, Neurogenesis, Plasticity, Sensory processing


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