Exuberant growth and synapse formation of olfactory sensory neuron axonal arborizations

J Comp Neurol. 2011 Dec 15;519(18):3713-26. doi: 10.1002/cne.22684.


Neural connections in the adult nervous system are established with a high degree of precision. Several examples throughout the nervous system indicate that this precision is achieved by first establishing an initial exuberant immature pattern of connectivity that is then sculpted into the adult pattern via pruning. This often emerges as an activity-dependent process. In the olfactory system, sensory axons from neurons expressing the same odorant receptor project with high precision to specific glomerular structures in the olfactory bulb. This process undergoes maturation-dependent refinements that are not fully understood. Due to technical impediments that have made it difficult to focus on single axons, it is unknown whether olfactory sensory projections are established in an exuberant fashion. Here we developed a novel technique of electroporation that allowed us to simultaneously label single olfactory sensory neuron (OSN) axonal arbors and their presynaptic specializations. Using this method we were able to incorporate plasmids into OSNs at an immature stage, thereby allowing a time-course study of axonal arbor development and synapse formation in single olfactory sensory axons. We observed that the number of branch points, the total branch length, and the number and density of presynaptic specializations peaked at postnatal day 8 and decreased afterwards. Our data demonstrate that olfactory sensory axons develop in an exuberant way, both in terms of branch growth and synaptic composition. We hypothesize that exuberant branches and synapses are eliminated to achieve the mature pattern in a process likely to be regulated by neural activity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Axons / physiology*
  • Electroporation / methods
  • Mice
  • Mice, 129 Strain
  • Neuroanatomical Tract-Tracing Techniques / methods
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Neuropil / cytology
  • Neuropil / physiology
  • Olfactory Bulb / cytology
  • Olfactory Bulb / growth & development
  • Olfactory Mucosa / cytology
  • Olfactory Nerve / cytology
  • Olfactory Nerve / growth & development
  • Olfactory Pathways / cytology
  • Olfactory Pathways / growth & development*
  • Olfactory Receptor Neurons / cytology
  • Olfactory Receptor Neurons / physiology*
  • Plasmids / administration & dosage
  • Synapses / physiology*