Yale School of Medicine has received a $6.6 million grant to study why the olfactory function declines as people age?research that could have implications for Alzheimer?s, Parkinson?s, and other neurodegenerative diseases.
The principal investigator on the grant, Charles Greer, professor of neurosurgery and neurobiology, is collaborating with colleagues at Columbia and Rockefeller universities and The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle on a series of studies that begin in the olfactory epithelium, where odors are first detected, and proceed through the olfactory bulb and olfactory cortex, the two central areas of odor processing.
?Aging has a profound effect on olfactory function and olfactory sensitivity, leading not only to a reduced quality of life, but often serious nutritional deficits,? Greer said. ?While conducting our research, we may also uncover changes that are common to many parts of the brain and that form a basis for age-related changes in the brain and its functions.?
In both Alzheimer?s and Parkinson?s diseases, early onset of changes and pathology in the sense of smell suggest a central involvement of olfactory systems in aging and age-related diseases. ?Yet, little has been done in the development of animal models for studying the cellular and molecular changes in the olfactory system as a result of aging,? Greer said.
The researchers will use microarrays and physiology to assess the status of the olfactory epithelium and bulb and molecular genetic approaches to evaluate turnover of olfactory sensory neurons and targeting of their axons to the bulb. They also will examine the organization and the balance of synapses, and the molecular representation of odor pathways in the olfactory cortex.
Greer and his collaborators, Linda Buck of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, Stuart Firestein of Columbia, and Peter Mombaerts of Rockefeller, will work on different aspects of the project, although the experiments are closely integrated and share a common administrative core.