Zinc is a trace element with a multitude of roles in biological systems including structural and cofactor functions for proteins. Although most zinc in the central nervous system (CNS) is protein bound, the CNS contains a pool of mobile zinc housed in synaptic vesicles within a subset of neurons. Such mobile zinc occurs in many brain regions, such as the hippocampus, hypothalamus, and cortex, but the olfactory bulb (OB) contains one of the highest such concentrations in the CNS. Zinc is distributed throughout the OB, with the glomerular and granule cell layers containing the highest levels. Here, we visualize vesicular zinc in the OB using zinc-responsive fluorescent probes developed by one of us. Moreover, we provide the first demonstration that vesicular pools of zinc can be released from olfactory nerve terminals within individual glomeruli by patterned electrical stimulation of the olfactory nerve designed to mimic the breathing cycle in rats. We also provide electrophysiological evidence that elevated extracellular zinc potentiates α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid (AMPA) receptor-mediated synaptic events. AMPA receptors are required for the synchronous activation of neurons within individual OB glomeruli, and zinc-mediated potentiation leads to enhanced synaptic summation.
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