Effects of in utero odorant exposure on neuroanatomical development of the olfactory bulb and odour preferences

Josephine Todrank, Giora Heth, Diego Restrepo


Human babies and other young mammals prefer food odours and flavours of their mother's diet during pregnancy as well as their mother's individually distinctive odour. Newborn mice also prefer the individual odours of more closely related—even unfamiliar—lactating females. If exposure to in utero odorants—which include metabolites from the mother's diet and the foetus's genetically determined individual odour—helps shape the neuroanatomical development of the olfactory bulb, this could influence the perception of such biologically important odours that are preferred after birth. We exposed gene-targeted mice during gestation and nursing to odorants that activate GFP-tagged olfactory receptors (ORs) and then measured the effects on the size of tagged glomeruli in the olfactory bulb where axons from olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) coalesce by OR type. We found significantly larger tagged glomeruli in mice exposed to these activating odorants in amniotic fluid, and later in mother's milk, as well as significant preferences for the activating odour. Larger glomeruli comprising OSNs that respond to consistently encountered odorants should enhance detection and discrimination of these subsequently preferred odours, which in nature would facilitate selection of palatable foods and kin recognition, through similarities in individual odours of relatives.

  • Received October 25, 2010.
  • Accepted November 8, 2010.
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