The olfactory bulb receives a large number of centrifugal fibers whose functions remain unclear. To gain insight into the function of the bulbar centrifugal system, the morphology of individual centrifugal axons from olfactory cortical areas was examined in detail. An anterograde tracer, Phaseolus vulgaris leucoagglutinin, was injected into rat olfactory cortical areas, including the pars lateralis of the anterior olfactory nucleus (lAON) and the anterior part of the piriform cortex (aPC). Reconstruction from serial sections revealed that the extrabulbar segments of centrifugal axons from the lAON and those from the aPC had distinct trajectories: the former tended to innervate the pars externa of the AON before entering the olfactory bulb, while the latter had extrabulbar collaterals that extended to a variety of targets. In contrast to the extrabulbar segments, no clear differences were found between the intrabulbar segments of axons from the lAON and from the aPC. The intrabulbar segments of centrifugal axons were mainly found in the granule cell layer but a few axons extended into the external plexiform and glomerular layer. Approximately 40% of centrifugal axons innervated both the medial and lateral aspects of the olfactory bulb. The number of boutons found on single intrabulbar segments was typically less than 1000. Boutons tended to aggregate and form complex terminal tufts with short axonal branches. Terminal tufts, no more than 10 in single axons from ipsilateral cortical areas, were localized to the granule cell layer with varying intervals; some tufts formed patchy clusters and others were scattered over areas that extended for a few millimeters. The patchy, widespread distribution of terminals suggests that the centrifugal axons are able to couple the activity of specific subsets of bulbar neurons even when the subsets are spatially separated.
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