Front Page

Previous Story

Next Story

NIH Record

Buck To Give Director's Lecture

By Cheryl D. Fells

Dr. Linda Buck, recognized for her pioneering work on the molecular basis of odor perception, will present the NIH Director's Lecture on Wednesday, Feb. 17, at 3 p.m. in the Clinical Center's Masur Auditorium. The title of her lecture is "Deconstructing Smell."

Dr. Linda Buck

Studies on the sense of smell indicate that humans can distinguish thousands of different volatile odorants, yet identifying the mechanisms underlying this extraordinary ability has proven extremely difficult. The first breakthrough came in 1991, when Buck and Dr. Richard Axel at Columbia University discovered an enormous multigene family encoding 1,000 different olfactory receptors expressed by olfactory sensory neurons in the nose. Currently, this is the largest gene family identified in mammals and represents about 1 percent of all human genes. The discovery has allowed Buck and other scientists to use the cloned olfactory receptors as molecular probes to study the sense of smell and to explore how the brain discriminates among odors.

In 1991, Buck joined the neurobiology faculty at Harvard Medical School, where she continued her studies of olfaction. Over the past 8 years, studies conducted in her laboratory have provided a number of insights into the molecular and organizational strategies used by the olfactory system to perceive odors, as well as the mechanisms underlying pheromone detection. They have shown that information is encoded in a highly distributed manner in the nose, but is reorganized in the olfactory bulb into a stereotyped sensory map, which is identical in different individuals. They have also uncovered a combinatorial receptor coding scheme that explains how the olfactory system can distinguish a virtually limitless variety of odors, and how chemicals that are almost identical can have completely different odors.

Recently, Buck's lab developed a genetic method of tracing neural circuits, which now opens the way to tracing odor and pheromone pathways deep in the brain. This method should also be widely applicable to a variety of neural systems, and be particularly useful for the elucidation of neural circuits involving small subsets of neurons, and for studying the development of neural connections as they occur in utero.

Buck received B.S. degrees in microbiology and psychology from the University of Washington, a Ph.D. in immunology from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, and did postdoctoral research at Columbia University. She is currently associate professor of neurobiology at Harvard Medical School and associate investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

She has received numerous awards for her research, including the Kenji Nakanishi Award for Research in Olfaction and the R.H. Wright Award in Olfactory Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Research. Buck has also served as a member of both the programs advisory committee and the integrated planning and policy working group of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

For more information or to arrange reasonable accommodation, call Hilda Madine, 594-5595.

Up to Top