Cell death is ubiquitous in the developing brain and an important regulator of cell number. The olfactory bulb, the first central relay for information from the nose, is a particularly appropriate region for studying cell death. The bulb is constantly infused with new cells, has a strictly organized anatomy, and cell survival is known to depend on levels of afferent activation. The present study examined patterns of cell death in both the normally developing and sensory-deprived rat olfactory bulb terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated deoxyuridine triphosphate-biotin nick end labeling (TUNEL). In control pups, TUNEL-labeled profiles were high at postnatal day 5 (P5, day of birth = P0), but then decreased rapidly to constant levels. In contrast, blocking airflow through half of the nasal cavity by surgically closing an external naris on P1 resulted in a gradual increase in TUNEL-positive figures within the ipsilateral olfactory bulb by P20, with the effects being seen in the mitral and granule cell layers until at least P60. The effect was largely age dependent, because subjects occluded from P30 to P60 showed only slight increases in cell death. Furthermore, although interlaminar differences were encountered, the pattern of cell death appeared uniform over much of the bulb. Finally, reopening occluded nares decreased cell death levels to control values, suggesting an inverse relationship between the level of olfactory function and the extent of cell death. Thus, the data indicate that cell death is prevalent in the normal olfactory bulb, and that it is directly regulated by the level of olfactory function.
Copyright 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.