Aging in the rat olfactory system: Relative stability of piriform cortex contrasts with changes in olfactory bulb and olfactory epithelium

Academic Article


  • Previous studies have quantified growth and atrophy of the olfactory bulb and olfactory epithelium of the Sprague‐Dawley rat from maturity to senescence. Major events occurring in these structures include changes in the volume of mitral cells and changes in the number of septal olfactory receptors. These effects are large, consist of a growth phase followed by atrophy, and are temporally related in that events in the olfactory epithelium precede those in the mitral cells. A hypothesis of aging based on transneuronal effects would predict that these changes would be similarly transmitted to the next synaptic station in the olfactory pathway. Therefore, cells and synapses of the piriform cortex were studied in rats 3, 12, 18, 24, 27, 30, and 33 months of age. Alternate Vibratome sections through brains perfused with mixed aldehydes were processed for light and electron microscopy. No significant age effects were found for the volumes of cortical laminae Ia and Ib. Both numerical and surface density of synaptic apposition zones in layer Ia, formed primarily by mitral cell axons, were stable with age. A modest (18%) but significant decline in the proportion of layer Ia occupied by dendrites and spines was mirrored by an increase in the proportion of glial processes; no change in the proportion of axons and terminals was observed. Neither nuclear volume, nor soma volume, nor numerical density of layer II neurons changed with age. Thus, contacts made in the piriform cortex by mitral cell axons remain relatively stable in senescence, despite the marked volumetric changes in the mitral cell somata, changes which were confirmed again in this study. Age‐related dendritic regression in layer II neurons may be attributable to functional deafferentation subsequent to reduced receptor input to mitral cells. Copyright © 1985 Alan R. Liss, Inc.
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    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Curcio CA; McNelly NA; Hinds JW
  • Start Page

  • 519
  • End Page

  • 528
  • Volume

  • 235
  • Issue

  • 4