The highly specific organization of the olfactory bulb (OB) is well known, but the impact of early odorant experience on its circuit structure is unclear. Olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) project axons from the olfactory epithelium to the OB, where they form spherical neuropil structures called glomeruli. These glomeruli and the postsynaptic targets of OSNs, including mitral and tufted cells (M/TCs) and juxtaglomerular cells, form glomerular modules, which represent the basic odor-coding units of the OB. Here, we labeled M/TCs within a single glomerular module of the mouse OB and show that odorant exposure that starts prenatally and continues through postnatal day 25 has a major impact on the structure of the glomerular module. We confirm that exposure increases the volume of the activated glomeruli and show that exposure increases M/TC number by >40% in a glomerulus-specific fashion. Given the role of M/TCs in OB output and in lateral inhibition, increasing the number of M/TCs connected to a single glomerulus may also increase the influence of that glomerulus on the OB network and on OB output. Our results show that early odorant exposure has a profound effect on OB connectivity and thus may affect odorant processing significantly.
Significance statement: Experience shapes neural circuits in a variety of ways, most commonly by changing the strength of activated connections. Relatively little is known about how experience changes circuitry in the olfactory system. Here, we show that for a genetically identified glomerulus in the mouse olfactory bulb, early odorant exposure increases the number of associated mitral and tufted cells by 40% and 100%, respectively. Understanding the structural changes induced by early odorant experience can provide insight into how bulbar organization gives rise to efficient processing. We find that odorant experience increases the number of projection neurons associated with a single glomerulus significantly, a dramatic and long-lasting structural change that may have important functional implications.
Keywords: glomerulus; mitral cells; olfaction; plasticity.
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