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Neuroscience. 1999;93(4):1301-12.

Olfactory receptor neurons exist as distinct subclasses of immature and mature cells in primary culture.

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The Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Department of Neurology, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA.


The processes of neuronal differentiation and survival are key questions in neurobiology. The olfactory system possesses unique regenerative capacity, as its neurons are continually replaced throughout adulthood from a maintained population of precursor cells. Primary cultures of olfactory epithelium enriched in olfactory neurons would provide a useful model to study the processes of neurogenesis, differentiation and senescence. To determine whether immature olfactory neurons could be isolated in primary culture and to investigate the mechanisms underlying these processes, culture conditions which selectively favored the presence of immature olfactory neurons were optimized. Using low plating densities, a population of cells was identified which, by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction, demonstrated messages for olfactory neuronal markers, including Golf, olfactory cyclic nucleotide-gated channel and olfactory marker protein, as well as the p75 low-affinity nerve growth factor receptor. Immunocytochemical analysis showed that these putative immature olfactory neurons possessed immunoreactivity to G(olf), neuron-specific tubulin, neural cell adhesion molecule, synaptophysin and neurofilament. These neurons were defined as olfactory receptor neuron-1 cells. Under these conditions, a separate class of rarely occurring cells with different morphology demonstrated immunoreactivity to mature markers, such as adenylyl cyclase III and olfactory marker protein. Electrophysiologically, these cells displayed properties consistent with those of acutely dissociated olfactory receptor neurons. Another class of rarer cells which represented less than 2% of cells in culture demonstrated immunoreactivity to glial fibrillary acidic protein. These cultures can serve as a model for in vitro analysis of olfactory receptor neuronal development and maintenance, and provide a potential substrate for the development of cell lines.

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