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Encoding of Olfactory Information with Oscillating Neural Assemblies

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Science  23 Sep 1994:
Vol. 265, Issue 5180, pp. 1872-1875
DOI: 10.1126/science.265.5180.1872

Abstract

In the brain, fast oscillations of local field potentials, which are thought to arise from the coherent and rhythmic activity of large numbers of neurons, were observed first in the olfactory system and have since been described in many neocortical areas. The importance of these oscillations in information coding, however, is controversial. Here, local field potential and intracellular recordings were obtained from the antennal lobe and mushroom body of the locust Schistocerca americana. Different odors evoked coherent oscillations in different, but usually overlapping, ensembles of neurons. The phase of firing of individual neurons relative to the population was not dependent on the odor. The components of a coherently oscillating ensemble of neurons changed over the duration of a single exposure to an odor. It is thus proposed that odors are encoded by specific but dynamic assemblies of coherently oscillating neurons. Such distributed and temporal representation of complex sensory signals may facilitate combinatorial coding and associative learning in these, and possibly other, sensory networks.