In the mammalian central nervous system neuron replacement is not possible except, in the olfactory system. Olfactory neurons are unique, they are replaced normally and when injured. This remarkable capacity for postnatal neurogenesis makes the olfactory system an excellent model for studies examining neuron development and plasticity. My research is concerned with studying the ability of olfactory neuroblasts to produce new neurons. One technique we use to study this process is nerve cell transplantation. Olfactory transplant neurons survive in different regions of the CNS, and continue to develop and grow new nerve processes into host brain tissue. Currently, we are studying transplants to obtain a better understanding of development and neurogenesis that could then be applied to other CNS neurons. Can transplanted olfactory neurons serve as replacement cells for lost neurons in the brain and spinal cord?
My laboratory also studies the human olfactory system, specifically morphology, distribution and changes that occur with aging and disease. Another area of ongoing study is to determine the effect of pathogens on the olfactory system. Olfactory neurons are "naked" to the external environment and may serve as a portal for pathogens to reach the brain. How pathogens gain entry into olfactory epithelial cells and reach the CNS are complex and poorly understood and could have important clinical implications.
Our laboratory is also studying canine olfaction. Canine detector dogs are the most effective tool available to law enforcement agencies. Our efforts are directed at examining the structure and function of canine olfaction.
Movie clip from Explorer: Science of Dogs, National
Geographic Television. Clip illustrates how the sense of Olfaction is perceive through a "dogs" point of view in a back yard setting.