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Neuron. 2004 Dec 2;44(5):865-76.

Maintaining accuracy at the expense of speed: stimulus similarity defines odor discrimination time in mice.

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WIN Group of Olfactory Dynamics, Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften and Max-Planck-Institut für medizinische Forschung, Jahnstrasse 29, D-69120 Heidelberg, Germany.


Odor discrimination times and their dependence on stimulus similarity were evaluated to test temporal and spatial models of odor representation in mice. In a go/no-go operant conditioning paradigm, discrimination accuracy and time were determined for simple monomolecular odors and binary mixtures of odors. Mice discriminated simple odors with an accuracy exceeding 95%. Binary mixtures evoking highly overlapping spatiotemporal patterns of activity in the olfactory bulb were discriminated equally well. However, while discriminating simple odors in less than 200 ms, mice required 70-100 ms more time to discriminate highly similar binary mixtures. We conclude that odor discrimination in mice is fast and stimulus dependent. Thus, the underlying neuronal mechanisms act on a fast timescale, requiring only a brief epoch of odor-specific spatiotemporal representations to achieve rapid discrimination of dissimilar odors. The fine discrimination of highly similar stimuli, however, requires temporal integration of activity, suggesting a tradeoff between accuracy and speed.

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