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Neuron. 2008 Feb 28;57(4):571-85. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2008.01.008.

Odor representations in the rat olfactory bulb change smoothly with morphing stimuli.

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National Centre for Biological Sciences, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Bellary Road, Bangalore 560065, India.


Many species of mammals are very good at categorizing odors. One model for how this is achieved involves the formation of "attractor" states in the olfactory processing pathway, which converge to stable representations for the odor. We analyzed the responses of rat olfactory bulb mitral/tufted (M/T) cells using stimuli "morphing" from one odor to another through intermediate mixtures. We then developed a phenomenological model for the representation of odors and mixtures by M/T cells and show that >80% of odorant responses to different concentrations and mixtures can be expressed in terms of smoothly summing responses to air and the two pure odorants. Furthermore, the model successfully predicts M/T cell responses to odor mixtures when respiration dependence is eliminated. Thus, odor mixtures are represented in the bulb through summation of components, rather than distinct attractor states. We suggest that our olfactory coding model captures many aspects of single and mixed odor representation in M/T cells.

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