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Neuron. 2017 Dec 6;96(5):1139-1152.e7. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2017.11.008.

Mechanosensory-Based Phase Coding of Odor Identity in the Olfactory Bulb.

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Laboratory for Sensory Circuit Formation, RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology, Kobe 650-0047, Japan.
Animal Resource Development Unit and Genetic Engineering Team, RIKEN Center for Life Science Technologies, Kobe 650-0047, Japan.
Laboratory for Sensory Circuit Formation, RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology, Kobe 650-0047, Japan; PRESTO, Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST), Saitama 332-0012, Japan; Graduate School of Biostudies, Kyoto University, Kyoto 606-8501, Japan; Graduate School of Medical Sciences, Kyushu University, Fukuoka 812-8582, Japan. Electronic address:


Mitral and tufted (M/T) cells in the olfactory bulb produce rich temporal patterns of activity in response to different odors. However, it remains unknown how these temporal patterns are generated and how they are utilized in olfaction. Here we show that temporal patterning effectively discriminates between the two sensory modalities detected by olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs): odor and airflow-driven mechanical signals. Sniff-induced mechanosensation generates glomerulus-specific oscillatory activity in M/T cells, whose phase was invariant across airflow speed. In contrast, odor stimulation caused phase shifts (phase coding). We also found that odor-evoked phase shifts are concentration invariant and stable across multiple sniff cycles, contrary to the labile nature of rate coding. The loss of oscillatory mechanosensation impaired the precision and stability of phase coding, demonstrating its role in olfaction. We propose that phase, not rate, coding is a robust encoding strategy of odor identity and is ensured by airflow-induced mechanosensation in OSNs.


concentration invariance; mechanosensation; mitral/tufted cells; olfaction; olfactory bulb; olfactory sensory neurons; oscillations; phase coding; sniffing; temporal coding

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