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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Apr 15, 1993; 90(8): 3329–3333.

Odor-induced increases in c-fos mRNA expression reveal an anatomical "unit" for odor processing in olfactory bulb.


Expression of the immediate-early gene c-fos was used to evaluate the coordinate activation of olfactory bulb neurons by brief exposure to specific odors in the alert rat. In situ hybridization to c-fos mRNA was compared to regional increases in 2-deoxy-D-[14C]glucose incorporation in an adjacent section analysis. Levels of c-fos mRNA in olfactory bulb were high in rats recently removed from their home cage but were low in animals placed in a relatively odor-free chamber for 30 min. Presentation of specific odors to alert rats for as little as 5 min increased c-fos mRNA in radially distributed neuronal ensembles that spanned the lamina of the main olfactory bulb. The complementary RNA (cRNA)-labeled neuronal collectives consisted of cells in the glomerular layer that precisely defined the borders of individual glomeruli and underlying tufted, mitral, and granule cells. The activated fields were much broader in the granule cell layer than in the overlying glomerular layer and thus exhibited a flask-like, as opposed to a columnar, contour. The bulbar distribution of cRNA-labeled cell arrays differed with different odors and, in the glomerular layer, corresponded to focal regions of high 2-deoxy-D-[14C]glucose uptake. Administration of the noncompetitive N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor antagonist MK801 did not attenuate the odor induction of c-fos but, instead, increased c-fos mRNA levels throughout the bulb. We propose that the neuronal ensembles expressing increased c-fos mRNA with odor stimulation represent principal functional units of sensory processing in the main olfactory bulb of the behaving rat.

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