Investigator Ron Yu, PhD, has received a five-year, $2.3 million grant from the NIH’s National Institute on Deafness and Other Communicative Disorders to fund research on the molecular mechanisms that control the critical period—a time when neurons and their circuits are particularly sensitive to influence from the environment—in olfactory system development.
In the mammalian brain, olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) regenerate continuously, so it has been thought that the olfactory system does not exhibit a critical period during development. Yu’s team discovered that, in fact, there is a critical period in the first postnatal week during which OSN connections can be modified. New studies from the team indicate two separate developmental events occurring before and after the critical period, accompanied by significant changes in gene expression.
Yu and his lab plan to probe these genetic switches to gain a greater understanding of adult neurogenesis and how developmental and aging processes affect olfactory functions. Olfactory deficiency is often the earliest sign of neural degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. A mechanistic understanding of the developmental processes may provide insights into neurodegeneration.