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Eur J Neurosci. 2008 May;27(10):2676-85. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-9568.2008.06213.x. Epub 2008 Apr 26.

Glomerular activation patterns and the perception of odor mixtures.

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Department of Neurobiology, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637, USA.


Odor mixtures can produce several qualitatively different percepts; it is not known at which stage of processing these are determined. We asked if activity within the first stage of olfactory processing, the glomerular layer of the olfactory bulb, predicts odor mixture perception. We characterized how mice respond to components after training to five different mixture ratios of pentanal and hexanal, and found two types of responses: elemental perception and overshadowing. We then used intrinsic signal imaging to observe glomerular activity in response to the same mixtures and their components. As has been previously described, glomerular activity patterns produced by mixtures resemble the linear combination of responses to components. Mice trained to identify mixtures with more hexanal than pentanal recognized hexanal but not pentanal when the odorants were presented alone (overshadowing). Consistent with these behavioral responses, the imaged activity pattern in response to mixtures was similar to that produced to hexanal alone. Moreover, there was no significant effect of glomerular inhibition in the imaged response. In contrast, the glomerular activity patterns did not predict elemental perception: when trained to identify mixtures with more pentanal than hexanal, mice recognized both components equally well, even with highly overlapping activation patterns. This suggests that spatial activity patterns within the olfactory bulb are not always sufficient to specify component recognition in mixtures.

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