Development, Organization and Plasticity of the Zebrafish Olfactory System
Braubach, Oliver Robert
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Olfaction is vitally important to animals in all environments and is used to identify food, habitat, conspecifics and predators. Some odors, like pheromones or the pungent smell of spoiled foods, can trigger pre-existing behavioral responses that appear to require no learning. Most odors, however, are only attended to as a result of prior experience. It is believed that different types of odors are processed in different olfactory pathways in the forebrain. This thesis examines the relationship between innate and learned olfactory behaviors and the anatomy of the neural pathways that underlie them, using the zebrafish olfactory system as a model. I first characterized an appetitive olfactory behavior, which is displayed promptly by zebrafish when they encounter amino acid odors. A similar appetitive behavior can also be learned by the fish for another, initially neutral odorant, if it is repeatedly paired with food rewards. Zebrafish can therefore respond to, and learn to respond to certain odors. I then conducted an in-depth anatomical analysis of the structure and distribution of glomeruli in the zebrafish olfactory system. Glomeruli are spheroidal synaptic aggregates that organize and shape olfactory information that arrives in the brain. Throughout the development of zebrafish, I identified two distinct populations of glomeruli. One population consisted of 25 individually identifiable, anatomically stereotypic glomeruli that closely resembled specialized glomeruli in mammals and insects. These glomeruli were already formed during embryonic development and persisted in remarkably stable configurations throughout later developmental stages. I hypothesize that the 25 individually identifiable glomeruli constitute stable olfactory pathways (i.e., for innate olfactory behaviors). Most glomeruli, however, were anatomically variable and displayed different distributions within coarsely circumscribed regions in the zebrafish olfactory bulbs. The development of these glomeruli could be modified by sensory experience, suggesting that they may comprise plastic olfactory pathways that subserve the establishment of learned olfactory behaviors. Collectively my results show that innate and learned olfactory behaviors may indeed be represented in different olfactory pathways, and that these types of pathways may be located in both main and accessory olfactory systems.