The role of vasopressin in olfactory processing

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Centre for Integrative Physiology


The olfactory bulb is the part of the vertebrate forebrain that is involved in olfaction, the perception of odours. In this large and complex structure, olfactory signals from the nose are processed, and the results of this information processing are conveyed via the olfactory tract to brain areas involved with behavior and memory. That is why when we smell something, it often brings back memories associated with the object. Our work is focused on newly discovered nerve cells within the olfactory bulb that release the neuropeptide vasopressin. It is important to understand the role of vasopressin, because vasopressin acts in the brain to affect social behaviours, including social recognition, pair bonding, sexual behaviour and aggression. The aim of this proposal is to understand how vasopressin affects behaviour and memory within the olfactory bulb at the level of odour perception. Other nerve cells release peptides and they have effects on other emotions and behaviours and this has attracted wide attention because peptide mimetics may be valuable therapeutically for particular behavioural disorders.

Technical Summary

Pheromones, initially delivered to the olfactory systems, can act as social signals. These signals are modulated in higher brain regions by the neuropeptides oxytocin and vasopressin to generate social recognition and behaviour. We recently discovered a population of vasopressin expressing cells in the periglumerular layer of the main and accessory olfactory bulb which appear to be a subpopulation of external tufted cells. We hypothesise that vasopressin is acting directly within the olfactory bulb and this proposal is aimed at understanding the role of vasopressin in mediating social behaviours at the first synapses after odour perception. Olfactory signalling is a topic of fundamental importance in neuroscience, and understanding peptide-dependant behaviours is of key importance for translating basic understanding into therapeutic goals. The project addresses contemporary questions in neuroscience using whole animal approaches including quantitative behavioural analysis and in vivo electrophysiology, in addition to electron microscopy, in situ hybridisation and immunocytochemistry.
Description We have reported that the rat olfactory bulb contains a large population of interneurones which express vasopressin, that blocking the actions of vasopressin in the olfactory bulb impairs the social recognition abilities of rats, and that vasopressin agonists and antagonists can modulate the processing of information by olfactory bulb neurones. The findings indicate that social information is processed in part by a vasopressin system intrinsic to the olfactory system.
Exploitation Route While the proposed work is aimed at fundamental understanding, this does not preclude us gaining novel therapeutic insights into olfactory signalling. Although, this is not the specific aim of the current proposal, any such insights would form the foundation of future applications and collaborations. Finally, this project involves in vivo electrophysiology combined with microinjection to study endogenous peptide actions; these in vivo technologies are very important for translating post genomic knowledge into functional understanding, but the necessary expertise is in short supply. This project will thus contribute to "capacity building" for integrative physiology in the UK.
Sectors Healthcare

Description Press release for 2017 J Physiol paper 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact 1. Tsuji T, Allchorne AJ, Zhang M, Tsuji C, Tobin VA, Pineda R, Raftogianni A, Stern JE, Grinevich V, Leng G, Ludwig M. Vasopressin casts light on the suprachiasmatic nucleus. J Physiol 2017; 595(11): 3497-3514. paper received press release and Perspective article written by Bosch, O.J. Look behind the eyes - vasopressin rules the day. J Physiol 2017; 595(11), 3245.)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017