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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2000 Nov 7;97(23):12869-74.

Functional mosaic organization of mouse olfactory receptor neurons.

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Section of Neurobiology, Yale University, School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06520, USA.


In contrast to rapid progress in the molecular biology of olfaction, there are few physiological data to characterize the odor response properties of different populations of olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs) and their spatial distributions across the epithelium, which is essential for understanding the coding mechanisms underlying odor discrimination and recognition. We have tested the hypothesis that the ORNs are arranged in a functional mosaic, using an intact epithelial preparation from the mouse, in which odor responses of many ORNs in situ can be monitored simultaneously with calcium imaging techniques. ORNs responding to a given odor were widely distributed across epithelium and intermingled with ORNs responding to other odors. Tight clusters of ORNs responding to the same odor were observed. For a given odor, more ORNs were recruited when the concentration was increased. ORNs were able to distinguish between pairs of enantiomers by showing distinct but somewhat overlapping patterns. The results provide evidence regarding the response spectra of ORNs in situ, supporting the combinatorial coding of odor quality and intensity by different ORN subsets.

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