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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2009 Jul;1170:286-92. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.04015.x.

Low-level mechanisms for processing odor information in the behaving animal.

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Department of Biology, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, USA.


Sensory processing is typically thought to act on representations of sensory stimuli that are relatively fixed at low levels in the nervous system and become increasingly complex and subject to modulation at higher levels. Here we present recent findings from our laboratory demonstrating that, in the olfactory system, odor representations in the behaving animal can be transformed at low levels--as early as the primary sensory neurons themselves--via a variety of mechanisms. First, changes in odor sampling behavior, such as sniffing, can dramatically and rapidly alter primary odor representations by changing the strength and temporal structure of sensory input to the olfactory bulb, effectively shaping which features of the olfactory landscape are emphasized and likely altering how information is processed by the olfactory bulb network. Second, neural substrates exist for presynaptically modulating the strength of sensory input to the bulb as a function of behavioral state. The systems most likely to be involved in this modulation--cholinergic and serotonergic centrifugal inputs to the bulb--are linked to attention and arousal effects in other brain areas. Together, sniffing behavior and presynaptic inhibition have the potential to mediate, or at least contribute to, sensory processing phenomena, such as figure-ground separation, intensity invariance, and context-dependent and attentional modulation of response properties. Thus, "high order" processing can occur even before sensory neurons transmit information to the brain.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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