Studying basic mechanisms of olfaction: lessons we can learn from the small insect brain
All creatures, from single-cell organisms to humans, are able to detect chemical signals from their environments. Odor-evoked behaviors are therefore manifested in a variety of ways, from simple bacterial chemotaxis to the emotional human reaction to a particular scent. Nevertheless, the primary function of the olfactory system is to encode and interpret the input in order to provide the organism with vital information.
In order to understand the basic encoding underlying odor perception we perform studies on a functional neural network ideally suited for experimental research, namely the central olfactory pathways of a noctuid moth. Along with other insects, moths have served as favorite models not only for researchers devoted to the field of chemo-sensation but for neuroscientists in general. The comparative perspective has demonstrated several well-conserved principles across distinct phyla, particularly regarding olfaction.
In his book, “The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex”, Charles Darwin predicted already in 1871 the contemporary appreciation of insects for studying neural networks: “The brain of an ant is one of the most marvellous atoms of matter in the world…”.
In our research we utilize different experimental methods including mass staining, immunohistochemistry, intracellular recording/staining, confocal microscopy/modelling, and calcium imaging. In addition to exploring the olfactory system, we also study how cross‑modal input from sound and odor is integrated at various levels of the central nervous system.
National and international collaborators:
- Associate Professor Pål Kvello, Institute for teacher education, NTNU
- Associate Professor Gerit Pfuhl, Department of Psychology, University of Tromsø (UIT)
- Professor Xincheng Zhao, Department of Entomology, College of Plant Protection, Henan Agricultural University, Zhengzhou, China
- Professor Guirong Wang, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Beijing, China
- Professor Giovanni Galizia, University of Konstanz, Germany
- Dr. Stanley Heinze, Lund University, Sweeden
- Professor Uwe Homberg and Professor Joachim Schachtner, Phillips University, Marburg, Germany
- Dr. Mihail K. Zhemchuzhnikov, Sechenov Institute of Evolutionary Physiology and Biochemistry of the Russian Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg, Russia
- Dr. Irena Valterova, Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Prague, Czech Republic