Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)


Biomedical Sciences

Date of Award


Committee Chair or Co-Chairs

Diego Rodriguez-Gil

Committee Members

Russell Brown, Gregory Ordway, Victoria Palau, Antonio Rusinol


Olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) are contained within the olfactory epithelium (OE) and are responsible for detecting odorant molecules in the air. The exposure of OSNs to the external environment is necessary for their function, but it also leaves them exposed to potentially harmful elements and thus results in a high turnover rate. Despite the high turnover, the olfactory sense is maintained throughout life through the division of a population of stem cells that produce new OSNs both during normal turnover and after an injury occurs in the OE. When new OSNs are born, they must extend axons from the OE to the olfactory bulb (OB) where they make specific synaptic contacts. To determine the timeline of axon extension in normal turnover and after a methimazole-induced injury, we used fate-tracing utilizing an inducible Cre-LoxP model in which a fluorescent reporter was expressed by neuronal precursors and subsequently used to track axonal growth as the OSNs matured. Our results show that axon extension in both conditions follow the same timeline. However, markers of synaptic connectivity in the OB were delayed after injury. The delay in synaptic connectivity was also corroborated with delays in olfactory behavior after injury, which took 40 days to recover to control levels. Additionally, we investigated the process of removal of axonal debris created after an injury. Immunohistochemical analysis after injury indicated upregulation of IBA1+ cells within the 3 olfactory nerve layer of the OB, suggesting a role of microglia in this process. These microglia also showed an activated morphology and some had very large cell bodies with multiple nuclei. Furthermore, qPCR analysis of post-injury OB tissue shows upregulation of the CD11b receptor that is expressed on microglia. Our results have also shown upregulation of components of the complement pathway after injury, which is suggestive of a mechanism that underlies axonal debris removal after injury in the OB. Taken together, these results shed light on the process by which the olfactory system is able to recover after injury and could lead to discovery of mechanisms that could translate to treatments for injuries in other areas of the nervous system.

Document Type

Dissertation - embargo

Available for download on Saturday, July 20, 2024