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Cholinergic Modulation of Olfaction

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Olfactory dysfunction is one of the earliest symptoms of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's disease and Parkinsonism. A dominant hypothesis is that these diseases have a primary cholinergic etiology. Understanding how this system modulates olfactory processing, therefore, sets the stage for early detection and intervention. Acetylcholine modulates olfactory perceptual learning and working memory. This modulation of olfaction results from the incoming cholinergic innervation from the basal forebrain and subsequent activation of two classes of cholinergic receptors - the muscarinic acetylcholine receptors and nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs). In this proposal, we examine the role of nAChRs in modulating the excitability of mitral cells in the mouse main olfactory bulb. Using a synergistic approach incorporating olfactory slice electrophysiology and awake behaving recording we ask how interactions between various nAChR subtypes in the olfactory bulb result in the modulation of the glomerular output to incoming odor signals thereby affecting behavior. The proposal examines this question at multiple levels. In olfactory bulb slices we examine the nAChR modulation of the glomerular microcircuit using gene knockout mice, pharmacology, electrophysiology and calcium imaging. We test the model that nAChR modulation of glomerular output is due to efficient feedback inhibition from periglomerular (PG) cells. We also test a novel idea that effective inhibition of glomerular output is driven by amplification of GABA release due to PG-PG interactions. Using optogenetic approaches, we will examine how the glomerular circuit is modulated by ACh released from cholinergic fibers. Timing of transmitter release, relative to incoming odor input, will be examined both in slices, as well as with recordings from awake behaving animals. The research proposed here will greatly enhance our understanding of the principles governing cholinergic modulation in the brain to lay the foundation for rational drug design to treat neurodegenerative disorders.
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