Catching a whiff of a particular brand of perfume always reminds me of my mum. It’s not unusual for our sense of smell to be linked with particular memories of places, people or things. Even insects show a strong link between their olfactory sense (smell), learning and memory. The collection of brain cells thought responsible for this link in insects are called mushroom bodies, pictured here in the brain of a fruit fly. Forming the mushroom ‘cap’ are the bodies of Kenyon cells – a type of nerve cell (stained red) – with the tightly bundled cell axons [nerve projections] comprising the stalks (shown in yellow). At the stalk’s base the axons fan out where they form connections with other parts of the brain. Studies of this area have been particularly important for understanding the genetic basis of mushroom body function and the wider evolutionary foundation of olfactory learning and memory.
Written by Mary-Clare Hallsworth
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