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Physiol Rev. 1976 Jul;56(3):578-93.

Spatial patterning of response to odors in the peripheral olfactory system.


The low odor specificities of the olfactory receptors suggest that odor recognition depends on the simultaneous activity in an ensemble of receptor neurons. This ensemble could conceivably code quality without reference to the point of origin of each input on the receptor sheet. However, the nose-to-bulb projection appears sufficiently precise to provide the bulb with a topographical map of the receptor sheet although it is poorly delineated in the anteroposterior plane. (It is also known that the morphological changes that follow prolonged exposure to odors are more differentiated in the coronal than in the anteroposterior plane.) Furthermore, it is clear from work at both epithelial and bulbar levels that a spatiotemporal pattern of excitation is generated by odor stimulation of the receptor sheet and that this pattern differs for different odors. This evidence, then, supports the view that there is a spatial component to odor quality coding. This spatial pattern has two elements. One is imposed and depends (at least in part) on differences in the retentivity of different odorants by the mucous sheet, which has powerful sorptive properties. It effectiveness seems particularly weak for odorants with relatively long retention times. The second component is inherent and depends on the tendency of receptors with similar peak odor specificities to aggregate in the same region (or regions) of the epithelium. Different odors or groups of odors maximally excite different regions, which may overlap. The imposed component could not, in itself, provide an adequate mechanism for odor recognition, partly because many compounds have comparable or even identical mean retention times (e.g., enantiomeric isomers). The inherent component, on the other hand, possesses this potential. However, either or both forms of patterning may cooperate with a third nonspatial mechanism (based on differential responsiveness of receptors to different odors) in coding odor quality.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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