The centrifugal systems innervating the olfactory bulb are important elements in the functional regulation of the olfactory pathway. In this study, the selective innervation of specific glomeruli by serotonergic, noradrenergic and cholinergic centrifugal axons was analyzed. Thus, the morphology, distribution and density of positive axons were studied in the glomerular layer of the main olfactory bulb of the rat, using serotonin-, serotonin transporter- and dopamine-beta-hydroxylase-immunohistochemistry and acetylcholinesterase histochemistry in serial sections. Serotonin-, serotonin transporter-immunostaining and acetylcholinesterase-staining revealed a higher heterogeneity in the glomerular layer of the main olfactory bulb than previously reported. In this sense, four types of glomeruli could be identified according to their serotonergic innervation. The main distinctive feature of these four types of glomeruli was their serotonergic fibre density, although they also differed in their size, morphology and relative position throughout the rostro-caudal main olfactory bulb. In this sense, some specific regions of the glomerular layer were occupied by glomeruli with a particular morphology and a characteristic serotonergic innervation pattern that was consistent from animal to animal. Regarding the cholinergic system, we offer a new subclassification of glomeruli based on the distribution of cholinergic fibres in the glomerular structure. Finally, the serotonergic and cholinergic innervation patterns were compared in the glomerular layer. Sexual differences concerning the density of serotonergic fibres were observed in the atypical glomeruli (characterized by their strong cholinergic innervation). The present report provides new data on the heterogeneity of the centrifugal innervation of the glomerular layer that constitutes the morphological substrate supporting the existence of differential modulatory levels among the entire glomerular population.
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