Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Neuron 'claws' in the brain enable flies to distinguish one scent from another

Date:
October 20, 2013
Source:
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Summary:
Researchers are using the fruit fly to discover how the brain integrates multiple signals to identify one unique smell. It's work that has broader implication for how flies -- and ultimately, people -- learn.

Kenyon cell claws (indicated with boxes) extend from a single cell body in the fruit fly brain. CSHL researchers have found that each claw responds to different chemical compounds, and multiple claws must be stimulated in order for the Kenyon cell to become active. In this way, the Kenyon cells are the integration point that allows the fly to "remember" a smell.
Credit: Image courtesy of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Think of the smell of an orange, a lemon, and a grapefruit. Each has strong acidic notes mixed with sweetness. And yet each fresh, bright scent is distinguishable from its relatives. These fruits smell similar because they share many chemical compounds. How, then does the brain tell them apart? How does the brain remember a complex and often overlapping chemical signature as a particular scent?

Researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) are using the fruit fly to discover how the brain integrates multiple signals to identify one unique smell. It's work that has a broader implication for how flies - and ultimately, people - learn. In work published today in Nature Neuroscience, a team led by Associate Professor Glenn Turner describes how a group of neurons in the fruit fly brain recognize multiple individual chemicals in combination in order to define, or remember, a single scent.

The olfactory system of a fruit fly begins at the equivalent of our nose, where a series of neurons sense and respond to very specific chemicals. These neurons pass their signal on to a group of cells called projection neurons. Then the signal undergoes a transformation as it is passed to a body of neurons in the fly brain called Kenyon cells.

Kenyon cells have multiple, extremely large protrusions that grasp the projection neurons with a claw-like structure. Each Kenyon cell claw is wrapped tightly around only one projection neuron, meaning that it receives a signal from just one type of input. In addition to their unique structure, Kenyon cells are also remarkable for their selectivity. Because they're selective, they aren't often activated. Yet little is known about what in fact makes them decide to fire a signal.

Turner and colleague Eyal Gruntman, who is lead author on their new paper, used cutting-edge microscopy to explore the chemical response profile for multiple claws on one Kenyon cell. They found that each claw, even on a single Kenyon cell, responded to different odor molecules. Additional experiments using light to stimulate individual neurons (a technique called optogenetics) revealed that single Kenyon cells were only activated when several of their claws were simultaneously stimulated, explaining why they so rarely fire. Taken together, this work explains how individual Kenyon cells can integrate multiple signals in the brain to "remember" the particular chemical mixture as a single, distinct odor .

Turner will next try to determine "what controls which claws are connected, and how strong those connections are." This will provide insight into how the brain learns to assign a specific mix of chemicals as defining a particular scent. But beyond simple odor detection, the research has more general implications for learning. For Turner, the question driving his work forward is: what in the brain changes when you learn something?

The research described in this release was supported by the Elisabeth Sloan Livingston fellowship from the Watson School of Biological Sciences. and the US National Institutes of Health grant R01 DC010403-01A1.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Eyal Gruntman, Glenn C Turner. Integration of the olfactory code across dendritic claws of single mushroom body neurons. Nature Neuroscience, 2013; DOI: 10.1038/NN.3547

Cite This Page:

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. "Neuron 'claws' in the brain enable flies to distinguish one scent from another." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 October 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131020160737.htm>.
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. (2013, October 20). Neuron 'claws' in the brain enable flies to distinguish one scent from another. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131020160737.htm
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. "Neuron 'claws' in the brain enable flies to distinguish one scent from another." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131020160737.htm (accessed October 22, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

Newsy (Oct. 21, 2014) A medical team has for the first time given a man the ability to walk again after transplanting cells from his brain onto his severed spinal cord. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Portable Breathalyzer Gets You Home Safely

Portable Breathalyzer Gets You Home Safely

Buzz60 (Oct. 21, 2014) Breeze, a portable breathalyzer, gets you home safely by instantly showing your blood alcohol content, and with one tap, lets you call an Uber, a cab or a friend from your contact list to pick you up. Sean Dowling (@SeanDowlingTV) has the details. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Your Birth Season Might Determine Your Temperament

Your Birth Season Might Determine Your Temperament

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) A new study says the season you're born in can determine your temperament — and one season has a surprising outcome. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Movies Might Desensitize Violence For Parents, Not Just Kids

Movies Might Desensitize Violence For Parents, Not Just Kids

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) A study suggests that parents become desensitized to violent movies as well as children, which leads them to allow their kids to view violent films. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins