Gap junctions in olfactory neurons modulate olfactory sensitivity
One of the fundamental questions in olfaction is whether olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs) behave as independent entities within the olfactory epithelium. On the basis that mature ORNs express multiple connexins, I postulated that gap junctional communication modulates olfactory responses in the periphery and that disruption of gap junctions in ORNs reduces olfactory sensitivity. The data collected from characterizing connexin 43 (Cx43) dominant negative transgenic mice OlfDNCX, and from
... imaging of wild type mice (WT) support my hypothesis. Results: I generated OlfDNCX mice that express a dominant negative Cx43 protein, Cx43/β-gal, in mature ORNs to inactivate gap junctions and hemichannels composed of Cx43 or other structurally related connexins. Characterization of OlfDNCX revealed that Cx43/β-gal was exclusively expressed in areas where mature ORNs resided. Real time quantitative PCR indicated that cellular machineries of OlfDNCX were normal in comparison to WT. Electroolfactogram recordings showed decreased olfactory responses to octaldehyde, heptaldehyde and acetyl acetate in OlfDNCX compared to WT. Octaldehyde-elicited glomerular activity in the olfactory bulb, measured according to odor-elicited c-fos mRNA upregulation in juxtaglomerular cells, was confined to smaller areas of the glomerular layer in OlfDNCX compared to WT. In WT mice, octaldehyde sensitive neurons exhibited reduced response magnitudes after application of gap junction uncoupling reagents and the effects were specific to subsets of neurons. Conclusions: My study has demonstrated that altered assembly of Cx43 or structurally related connexins in ORNs modulates olfactory responses and changes olfactory activation maps in the olfactory bulb. Furthermore, pharmacologically uncoupling of gap junctions reduces olfactory activity in subsets of ORNs. These data suggest that gap junctional communication or hemichannel activity plays a critical role in maintaining olfactory sensitivity and odor perception.