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J Neurosci. 2014 Jan 29;34(5):1819-37. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2598-13.2014.

Differential associative training enhances olfactory acuity in Drosophila melanogaster.

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Georg-August-University Göttingen, Johann-Friedrich-Blumenbach-Institute for Zoology and Anthropology, Molecular Neurobiology of Behavior, 37077 Göttingen, Germany.


Training can improve the ability to discriminate between similar, confusable stimuli, including odors. One possibility of enhancing behaviorally expressed discrimination (i.e., sensory acuity) relies on differential associative learning, during which animals are forced to detect the differences between similar stimuli. Drosophila represents a key model organism for analyzing neuronal mechanisms underlying both odor processing and olfactory learning. However, the ability of flies to enhance fine discrimination between similar odors through differential associative learning has not been analyzed in detail. We performed associative conditioning experiments using chemically similar odorants that we show to evoke overlapping neuronal activity in the fly's antennal lobes and highly correlated activity in mushroom body lobes. We compared the animals' performance in discriminating between these odors after subjecting them to one of two types of training: either absolute conditioning, in which only one odor is reinforced, or differential conditioning, in which one odor is reinforced and a second odor is explicitly not reinforced. First, we show that differential conditioning decreases behavioral generalization of similar odorants in a choice situation. Second, we demonstrate that this learned enhancement in olfactory acuity relies on both conditioned excitation and conditioned inhibition. Third, inhibitory local interneurons in the antennal lobes are shown to be required for behavioral fine discrimination between the two similar odors. Fourth, differential, but not absolute, training causes decorrelation of odor representations in the mushroom body. In conclusion, differential training with similar odors ultimately induces a behaviorally expressed contrast enhancement between the two similar stimuli that facilitates fine discrimination.


Drosophila melanogaster; associative learning; odor discrimination; olfaction; optical calcium imaging; sensory processing

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