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Postnatal Neurogenesis in the Olfactory Bulb

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Neuroscience. Please check back later for the full article.

In adult mammals, the olfactory bulb and the hippocampus are the regions in the brain that undergo continuous neurogenesis (production and recruitment of newborn neurons). While the other regions of the brain still retain a certain degree of plasticity after birth, they no longer can integrate new neurons. In rodents, thousands of adult-born neurons integrate into the bulb each day, and this process has been found to contribute not only to sensory function, but also to olfactory memory. This was a surprising finding, since historically the adult-brain has been viewed as a static organ. Understanding the process of regeneration of mature neurons in the brain has great potential for therapeutic applications. Consequently, this process of adult-neurogenesis has received widespread attention from clinicians and scientists.

Neuroblasts bound for the olfactory bulb are produced in the subventricular zone of the lateral ventricle. Once they reach the olfactory bulb, they mostly develop into inhibitory interneurons called granule cells. Just after one month, about half of the adult-born neurons are eliminated, and the other half fully integrate and function in the olfactory bulb. These cells not only process information from the sensory neurons in the bulb, but also receive massive innervation from various regions of the brain, including the olfactory cortex, locus coeruleus, the horizontal limb of diagonal band of Broca, and the dorsal raphe nucleus. The sensory (bottom-up) and cortical (top-down) activity has been found to play a vital role in the adult-born granule cell survival. Though the exact purpose of these newborn neurons has not been identified, some emerging functions include maintenance of olfactory bulb circuitry, modulating sensory information, modulating olfactory learning, and memory.