The olfactory epithelium of fish is – of necessity – in intimate contact with the surrounding water. In euryhaline fish, movement from seawater to freshwater (and vice versa) exposes the epithelium to massive changes in salinity and ionic concentrations. How does the olfactory system function in the face of such changes? The current study compared olfactory sensitivity in seawater- (35‰) and brackish water-adapted seabass (5‰) using extracellular multi-unit recording from the olfactory nerve. Seawater-adapted bass had higher olfactory sensitivity to amino acid odorants when delivered in seawater than in freshwater. Conversely, brackish water-adapted bass had largely similar sensitivities to the same odorants when delivered in seawater or freshwater, although sensitivity was still slightly higher in seawater. The olfactory system of seawater-adapted bass was sensitive to decreases in external [Ca2+], whereas brackish water-adapted bass responded to increases in [Ca2+]; both seawater- and brackish water-adapted bass responded to increases in external [Na+] but the sensitivity was markedly higher in brackish water-adapted bass. In seawater-adapted bass, olfactory sensitivity to l-alanine depended on external Ca2+ ions, but not Na+; brackish water-adapted bass did respond to l-alanine in the absence of Ca2+, albeit with lower sensitivity, whereas sensitivity was unaffected by removal of Na+ ions. A possible adaptation of the olfactory epithelium was the higher number of mucous cells in brackish water-adapted bass. The olfactory system of seabass is able to adapt to low salinities, but this is not immediate; further studies are needed to identify the processes involved.

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