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Endogenous zinc nanoparticles in the rat olfactory epithelium are functionally significant

  • Singletary, Melissa1, 1
  • Lau, June W.2
  • Hagerty, Samantha1
  • Pustovyy, Oleg1
  • Globa, Ludmila1
  • Vodyanoy, Vitaly1
  • 1 Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine, Auburn, AL, USA , Auburn (United States)
  • 2 National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD, USA , Gaithersburg (United States)
Published Article
Scientific Reports
Springer Nature
Publication Date
Oct 28, 2020
DOI: 10.1038/s41598-020-75430-w
Springer Nature


The role of zinc in neurobiology is rapidly expanding. Zinc is especially essential in olfactory neurobiology. Naturally occurring zinc nanoparticles were detected in olfactory and nasal respiratory epithelia and cilia in animals. The addition of these nanoparticles to a mixture of odorants, including ethyl butyrate, eugenol, and carvone, considerably increased the electrical responses of the olfactory sensory receptors. Studies of these nanoparticles by ransmission electron microscopy (TEM) and selected area electron diffraction revealed metal elemental crystalline zinc nanoparticles 2–4 nm in diameter. These particles did not contain oxidized zinc. The enhancement of the odorant responses induced by the endogenous zinc nanoparticles appears to be similar to the amplification produced by engineered zinc nanoparticles. Zinc nanoparticles produce no odor response but increase odor response if mixed with an odorant. These effects are dose-dependent and reversible. Some other metal nanoparticles, such as copper, silver, gold, and platinum, do not have the effects observed in the case of zinc nanoparticles. The olfactory enhancement was observed in young and mature mouse olfactory epithelium cultures, in the dissected olfactory epithelium of rodents, and in live conscious dogs. The physiological significance of the detected endogenous metal nanoparticles in an animal tissue has been demonstrated for the first time. Overall, our results may advance the understanding of the initial events in olfaction.

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