Smelling in tiny houses: How ciliary electric currents keep olfaction reliable

phys.org | 1/1/2019 | Staff
chrismpotts (Posted by) Level 3
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Imagine trying to figure out how something works when that something takes place in a space smaller than a femtoliter: one quadrillionith of a liter. Now, two scientists with a nose for solving mysteries have used a combination of mathematical modeling, electrophysiology, and computer simulations to explain how cells communicate effectively in highly constricted spaces such as the olfactory cilia, where odor detection takes place. The findings will inform future studies of cellular signaling and communication in the olfactory system and also in other confined spaces of the nervous system.

Study author Johannes Reisert, Ph.D., a Monell Center cell physiologist, comments, "Ion channels and how their currents change ion concentrations inside cells are notoriously difficult to study. Our modeling-based approach enables us to better understand not only how olfaction works, but also the function of small nerve endings such as dendrites, where pathology is associated with many neurodegenerative diseases."

Study - Online - Advance - Print - Proceedings

In the study, published online in advance of print in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists asked why olfactory receptor cells communicate with the brain using a fundamentally different series of electrical events than used by sensory cells in the visual or auditory systems.

Olfaction begins when, in a process similar to a key fitting into a lock, an airborne chemical molecule travels through the nasal mucus to bind with an olfactory receptor embedded on the wall of a nerve cell within the nose. The olfactory receptors are located on cilia, elongated super-thin threadlike structures less than 0.000004 inches in diameter, which extend from the nerve cell into the mucus.

Act - Binding - Molecular - Cascade - Olfactory

The act of odorant-receptor binding initiates a complex molecular cascade inside the olfactory cell, known as transduction, which results in the nerve sending an electrical signal to inform the brain that an odor has been detected.

The transduction process culminates with the...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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