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To understand the operation of the olfactory system, it is essential to know how information is encoded in the olfactory bulb. We applied Shannon information theoretic methods to address this, with signals from up to 57 glomeruli simultaneously optically imaged from presynaptic inputs in glomeruli in the mouse dorsal (dOB) and lateral (lOB) olfactory bulb, in response to six exemplar pure chemical odors. We discovered that, first, the tuning of these signals from glomeruli to a set of odors is remarkably broad, with a mean sparseness of 0.83 and a mean signal correlation of 0.64. Second, both of these factors contribute to the low information that is available from the responses of even populations of many tens of glomeruli, which was only 1.35 bits across 33 glomeruli on average, compared with the 2.58 bits required to perfectly encode these six odors. Third, although there is considerable interest in the possibility of temporal encoding of stimulus including odor identity, the amount of information in the temporal aspects of the presynaptic glomerular responses was low (mean 0.11 bits) and, importantly, was redundant with respect to the information available from the rates. Fourth, the information from simultaneously recorded glomeruli asymptotes very gradually and nonlinearly, showing that glomeruli do not have independent responses. Fifth, the information from a population became available quite rapidly, within 100 ms of sniff onset, and the peak of the glomerular response was at 200 ms. Sixth, the information from the lOB was not additive with that of the dOB. NEW & NOTEWORTHY We report broad tuning and low odor information available across the lateral and dorsal bulb populations of glomeruli. Even though response latencies can be significantly predictive of stimulus identity, such contained very little information and none that was not redundant with information based on rate coding alone. Last, in line with the emerging notion of the important role of earliest stages of responses (“primacy”), we report a very rapid rise in information after each inhalation.more » « less
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Chemosensory neurons extract information about chemical cues from the environment. How is the activity in these sensory neurons transformed into behavior? Using Caenorhabditis elegans, we map a novel sensory neuron circuit motif that encodes odor concentration. Primary neurons, AWCON and AWA, directly detect the food odor benzaldehyde (BZ) and release insulin-like peptides and acetylcholine, respectively, which are required for odor-evoked responses in secondary neurons, ASEL and AWB. Consistently, both primary and secondary neurons are required for BZ attraction. Unexpectedly, this combinatorial code is altered in aged animals: odor-evoked activity in secondary, but not primary, olfactory neurons is reduced. Moreover, experimental manipulations increasing neurotransmission from primary neurons rescues aging-associated neuronal deficits. Finally, we correlate the odor responsiveness of aged animals with their lifespan. Together, these results show how odors are encoded by primary and secondary neurons and suggest reduced neurotransmission as a novel mechanism driving aging-associated sensory neural activity and behavioral declines.
Sensory stimuli evoke spiking activities patterned across neurons and time that are hypothesized to encode information about their identity. Since the same stimulus can be encountered in a multitude of ways, how stable or flexible are these stimulus-evoked responses? Here we examine this issue in the locust olfactory system. In the antennal lobe, we find that both spatial and temporal features of odor-evoked responses vary in a stimulus-history dependent manner. The response variations are not random, but allow the antennal lobe circuit to enhance the uniqueness of the current stimulus. Nevertheless, information about the odorant identity is conf ounded due to this contrast enhancement computation. Notably, predictions from a linear logical classifier (OR-of-ANDs) that can decode information distributed in flexible subsets of neurons match results from behavioral experiments. In sum, our results suggest that a trade-off between stability and flexibility in sensory coding can be achieved using a simple computational logic.
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