Convergence of Olfactory Inputs within the Central Nervous System of a Cartilaginous and a Bony Fish: An Anatomical Indicator of Olfactory Sensitivity

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The volume of the olfactory bulbs (OBs) relative to the brain has been used previously as a proxy for olfactory capabilities in many vertebrate taxa, including fishes. Although this gross approach has predictive power, a more accurate assessment of the number of afferent olfactory inputs and the convergence of this information at the level of the telencephalon is critical to our understanding of the role of olfaction in the behaviour of fishes. In this study, we used transmission electron microscopy to assess the number of first-order axons within the olfactory nerve (ON) and the number of second-order axons in the olfactory peduncle (OP) in established model species within cartilaginous (brownbanded bamboo shark, Chiloscyllium punctatum [CP]) and bony (common goldfish, Carassius auratus [CA]) fishes. The total number of axons varied from a mean of 18.12 ± 7.50 million in the ON to a mean of 0.38 ± 0.21 million in the OP of CP, versus 0.48 ± 0.16 million in the ON and 0.09 ± 0.02 million in the OP of CA. This resulted in a convergence ratio of approximately 50:1 and 5:1, respectively, for these two species. Based on astroglial ensheathing, axon type (unmyelinated [UM] and myelinated [M]) and axon size, we found no differentiated tracts in the OP of CP, whereas a lateral and a medial tract (both of which could be subdivided into two bundles or areas) were identified for CA, as previously described. Linear regression analyses revealed significant differences not only in axon density between species and locations (nerves and peduncles), but also in axon type and axon diameter (p 0.05). However, UM axon diameter was larger in the OPs than in the nerve in both species (p = 0.005), with no significant differences in UM axon diameter in the ON (p = 0.06) between species. This study provides an in-depth analysis of the neuroanatomical organisation of the ascending olfactory pathway in two fish taxa and a quantitative anatomical comparison of the summation of olfactory information. Our results support the assertion that relative OB volume is a good indicator of the level of olfactory input and thereby a proxy for olfactory capabilities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-161
Number of pages23
JournalBrain, Behavior and Evolution
Issue number3
Early online date10 Nov 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020


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