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Brain Res Brain Res Rev. 2003 Apr;42(1):23-32.

Olfactory coding in the mammalian olfactory bulb.

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Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, University of California, Room 2205 MH, Irvine, CA 92697-4550, USA.


There have been a number of recent approaches to the study of olfactory coding, each of which has its advantages and disadvantages. In the present review, we discuss our own work on this topic, which has involved mapping uptake of [14C]2-deoxyglucose across the entire glomerular layer of the rat main olfactory bulb in response to systematically selected pure odorant molecules. Our strategy to understand the olfactory code has involved four approaches. In the first, we determined whether the system encodes odorants in their entirety, or whether it encodes odorants by representing combinations of molecular features that add together to comprise a neural picture of each odorant. Multiple odorant features appeared to be coded by multiple receptors. Our second strategy examined the ways that such features are represented. We stimulated rats with odorants that differed greatly in their molecular structure to be able to identify a set of odorant feature response domains. Our third approach asked how odorants with very small differences in molecular structure are coded, and we found systematic differences in the representation of such features within response domains. Finally, we were able to predict odor perception from the neural representations of odorants that differed in only a single aspect of their structure. Using these strategies, we have been able to learn some of the rules by which the olfactory code operates. These rules have allowed us to predict where previously unmapped molecules would be represented and how differences in molecular representations affect olfactory perceptions.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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