The development of axonal connections in the central olfactory system of rats

James E. Schwob, Joseph L. Price

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The development of the cytoarchitecture and axonal connections of the central olfactory system were studied in fetal and neonatal rats from E16. In contrast to neocortical development, the olfactory cortex lacks a distinct cortical plate. In the piriform cortex and the olfactory tubercle the cellular laminae emerge simultaneously, while in the anterior olfactory nucleus, there are morphogenetic gradients from superficial to deep as well as from caudal to rostral which parallel the known cytogenetic gradients. Parallel morphogenetic and cytogenetic gradients are also present in the lateral to medial axis of the olfactory tubercle. The projection from the olfactory bulb and the associational projections from the piriform cortex begin to develop well before birth. At E17 fibers from the bulb are limited to the lateral olfactory tract (LOT) and the molecular layer just deep to it, and then spread out caudally, laterally, and medially away from the LOT. This sequence of innervation parallels and predicts the density of innervation in the adult: those areas which are innervated first (such as the piriform cortex deep to the LOT) ultimately receive the heaviest innervation; conversely, those areas which are innervated very late (such as the medial olfactory tubercle) receive the lightest projection. The intracortical projections from the anterior and posterior piriform cortex extend into layer I ipsilaterally by E20 and obtain their adult distribution by the middle of the first postnatal week. On the other hand, fibers from the anterior olfactory nucleus and the entorhinal area do not reach their full adult extent until the second postnatal week. Similarly, the crossed projection of the anterior piriform cortex to the contralateral posterior piriform cortex does not grow into layer I until this later time. The timing of fiber ingrowth showed no relation to the trajectory or eventual areal or laminar termination of fibers. As with the olfactory bulb projection, the timing may influence the density of termination. Centrifugal fibers to the bulb are demonstrable around the time of birth both by the retrograde transport of horseradish peroxidase (HRP) and by the anterograde transport of 3H‐leucine. The arrival of additional fibers during the remainder of the first postnatal week parallels the known cytogenetic and morphogenetic gradients in the areas in which they arise. The projections of the olfactory cortex to the lateral hypothalamic area and the mediodorsal thalamic nucleus are evident before birth. This correlates with the early generation of the cells which give rise to these projections.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)177-202
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 20 1984


  • anterior olfactory nucleus
  • nucleus of the lateral olfactory tract
  • olfactory bulb
  • olfactory tubercle
  • piriform cortex


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