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J Neurosci. 2011 Feb 9;31(6):2156-66. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5430-10.2011.

Two layers of synaptic processing by principal neurons in piriform cortex.

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  • 1Department of Neuroscience, The John Curtin School of Medical Research, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 0200, Australia.


The primary olfactory (or piriform) cortex is a trilaminar paleocortex that is thought to construct unified "odor images" from the odor components identified by the olfactory bulb. How the piriform cortex (PC) accomplishes this sophisticated synthetic task, despite its relatively simple architecture, is unknown. Here we used in vitro patch-clamp recordings from acute slices of the anterior PC of mice to identify microcircuits involved in excitatory synaptic processing. Cluster analysis confirmed the presence of two prominent classes of glutamatergic principal cells in the main input layer (layer II) of the PC: semilunar (SL) cells and superficial pyramidal (SP) cells. SL cells received stronger afferent excitatory input from the olfactory bulb, on average, than did SP cells. This was due to the larger mean strength of single-fiber afferents onto SL cells. In contrast, SP cells received stronger associational (intracortical) excitatory inputs, most likely due to their more extensive dendritic trees within the associational layers. Tissue-cut experiments and dual recordings from SL and SP cells in disinhibited slices were consistent with the distinctive patterns of connectivity of these two cell classes. Our findings suggest that the anterior PC employs at least two layers of excitatory synaptic processing: one involving strong afferent inputs onto SL cells, and another involving strong intracortical inputs onto SP cells. This architecture may allow the PC to sequentially process olfactory information within segregated subcircuits.

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