Prions help us to distinguish odours, finds a study published online in Nature Neuroscience. The research provides tantalizing clues as to the normal function of these mysterious proteins.
Prions are proteins involved in devastating diseases such as Creutzfeld-Jacob Disease (CJD) and Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) but little is known about how they normally function. Stuart Firestein and colleagues studied transgenic mice that lacked the prion protein in neurons of the olfactory system -- the part of the brain that controls our sense of smell. They find that these mice could still detect odours, but were deficient in some odour-guided behaviours such as finding buried food or an odour discrimination task. Replacing the protein in olfactory bulb neurons alone rescued this odour discrimination defect. The authors also find specific changes in the communication among neurons in the olfactory bulb of these transgenic mice.
It is not clear how these changes in odour discrimination relate to the pathology of prion diseases, but the research provides greater understanding of these enigmatic proteins.
Stuart Firestein (Columbia University, New York, NY, USA)
Abstract available online.
(C) Nature Neuroscience press release.
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