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Although modern baleen whales still possess a functional olfactory systems that includes olfactory bulbs, cranial nerve I and olfactory receptor genes, their olfactory capabilities have been reduced profoundly. This is probably in response to their fully aquatic lifestyle. The glomeruli that occur in the olfactory bulb can be divided into two non-overlapping domains, a dorsal domain and a ventral domain. Recent molecular studies revealed that all modern whales have lost olfactory receptor genes and marker genes that are specific to the dorsal domain, and that a modern baleen whale possess only 60 olfactory receptor genes. Here we show that olfactory bulb of bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus, Mysticeti) lacks glomeruli on the dorsal side, consistent with the molecular data. In addition, we estimate that there are more than 4,000 glomeruli in the bowhead whale olfactory bulb. Olfactory sensory neurons that express the same olfactory receptor in mice generally project to two specific glomeruli in an olfactory bulb, meaning that ratio of the number of olfactory receptors : the number of glomeruli is approximately 1:2. However, we show here that this ratio is not applicable to whales, indicating the limitation of mice as model organisms for understanding the initial coding of odor information among mammals.
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A coronal section of the OB of bowhead whale 09B11 (section 32). Glomeruli are labeled with anti-OMP antibody, and are indicated with arrows. Scale bar, 1000um.
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