The temporal regulation of neurogenesis during olfactory system development

Olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs) are the cells responsible for translating the odours in our external environment into the code that represents these smells in our brains. ORNs sense odours using receptors on their surface. These receptors bind the odour molecule by initiating a signalling process that results in information being transmitted to the appropriate part of the brain. Each ORN expresses only one type of receptor, and only a few out of thousands of other ORNs may express that receptor. This indicates that although all ORNs perform a similar function – sensing odours – each cell is unique. Since these cells are constantly exposed to the harsh external environment, they typically have a short life span. As a result, they are constantly replaced by new ORNS that are generated throughout life from undifferentiated cells. Thus, the olfactory system is the ideal model for understanding how an undifferentiated cell becomes a uniquely specialized neuron. Matt Larouche is seeking to define the time and place a particular ORN is produced since understanding these aspects may help explain what conditions are necessary for producing such a cell. This research will provide insight into how unique neurons are generated in the brain, and how to build specialized types of cells that can replace neurons lost due to injury. In the future, this information could be valuable for designing treatments for ailments that affect the nervous system, including strokes, paralysis and neurodegenerative diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s diseases.