Olfactory learning is associated with increased spine density along apical dendrites of pyramidal neurons in the rat piriform cortex

Eur J Neurosci. 2001 Feb;13(3):633-8. doi: 10.1046/j.1460-9568.2001.01422.x.


We studied the effect of olfactory learning on the dendritic spine density of pyramidal neurons in the rat piriform (olfactory) cortex. Rats were trained to distinguish between two pairs of odours in an olfactory discrimination task. Three days after training completion, rats were killed and layer II pyramidal neurons identified by Golgi impregnation were examined with a light microscope. Counts of visible spines were performed along the secondary and tertiary branches of both the apical dendrites and the basal dendrites, which are the sites of intracortical synaptic inputs. An estimate of the true spine density was obtained using Feldman and Peters' method (1979, The Journal of Comparative Neurology, 188, 527--542). The estimated true spine density along apical dendrites was higher in neurons from trained rats than those in pseudotrained and naive rats by 15%. As length of spiny dendrites did not change significantly after learning, the learning-related increase in spine density in neurons from trained rats may indicate on an increased number of excitatory synapses interconnecting pyramidal neurons in the piriform cortex, following olfactory learning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dendrites / physiology*
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology*
  • Olfactory Pathways / cytology*
  • Olfactory Pathways / physiology
  • Pyramidal Cells / physiology
  • Pyramidal Cells / ultrastructure*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Silver Staining
  • Smell / physiology*
  • Synapses / physiology