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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Apr 3;109(14):5481-6. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1117491109. Epub 2012 Mar 19.

Distributed representation of chemical features and tunotopic organization of glomeruli in the mouse olfactory bulb.

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Stowers Institute for Medical Research, Kansas City, MO 64110, USA.


In the mammalian brain, similar features of the sensory stimuli are often represented in proximity in the sensory areas. However, how chemical features are represented in the olfactory bulb has been controversial. Questions have been raised as to whether specific chemical features of the odor molecules are represented by spatially clustered olfactory glomeruli. Using a sensitive probe, we have analyzed the glomerular response to large numbers of odorants at single glomerulus resolution. Contrary to the general view, we find that the representation of chemical features is spatially distributed in the olfactory bulb with no discernible chemotopy. Moreover, odor-evoked pattern of activity does not correlate directly with odor structure in general. Despite the lack of spatial clustering or preference with respect to chemical features, some structurally related odors can be similarly represented by ensembles of spatially distributed glomeruli, providing an explanation of their perceptual similarity. Whereas there is no chemotopic organization, and the glomeruli are tuned to odors from multiple classes, we find that the glomeruli are hierarchically arranged into clusters according to their odor-tuning similarity. This tunotopic arrangement provides a framework to understand the spatial organization of the glomeruli that conforms to the organizational principle found in other sensory systems.

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