Dynamic Optimization of Odor Representations by Slow Temporal Patterning of Mitral Cell Activity

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Science  02 Feb 2001:
Vol. 291, Issue 5505, pp. 889-894
DOI: 10.1126/science.291.5505.889

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Mitral cells (MCs) in the olfactory bulb (OB) respond to odors with slow temporal firing patterns. The representation of each odor by activity patterns across the MC population thus changes continuously throughout a stimulus, in an odor-specific manner. In the zebrafish OB, we found that this distributed temporal patterning progressively reduced the similarity between ensemble representations of related odors, thereby making each odor's representation more specific over time. The tuning of individual MCs was not sharpened during this process. Hence, the individual responses of MCs did not become more specific, but the odor-coding MC assemblies changed such that their overlap decreased. This optimization of ensemble representations did not occur among olfactory afferents but resulted from OB circuit dynamics. Time can therefore gradually optimize stimulus representations in a sensory network.

  • * Present address: Max-Planck-Institute for Medical Research, Jahnstrasse 29, D-69120 Heidelberg, Germany.

  • To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: laurentg{at}

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