Mice appear to have a specialized system for detecting and at least initially processing instinctually important smells such as those that denote predators. The finding raises a question about whether their response to those smells is hardwired.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — A new study finds that mice have a distinct neural subsystem that links the nose to the brain and is associated with instinctually important smells such as those emitted by predators. That insight, published online this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, prompts the question whether mice and other mammals have specially hardwired neural circuitry to trigger instinctive behavior in response to certain smells.
In the series of experiments and observations described in the paper, the authors found that nerve cells in the nose that express members of the gene family of trace amine-associated receptors (TAAR) have several key biological differences from the much more common and diverse neurons that express members of the olfactory receptor gene family. Those other nerve cells detect a much broader range of smells, said corresponding author Gilad Barnea, the Robert and Nancy Carney Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at Brown University. (more…)