Temporal experience of odor gradients is important in spatial orientation of animals. The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster exhibits robust odor-guided behaviors in an odor gradient field. In order to investigate how early olfactory circuits process temporal variation of olfactory stimuli, we subjected flies to precisely defined odor concentration waveforms and examined spike patterns of olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) and projection neurons (PNs). We found a significant temporal transformation between OSN and PN spike patterns, manifested by the PN output strongly signaling the OSN spike rate and its rate of change. A simple two-dimensional model admitting the OSN spike rate and its rate of change as inputs closely predicted the PN output. When cascaded with the rate-of-change encoding by OSNs, PNs primarily signal the acceleration and the rate of change of dynamic odor stimuli to higher brain centers, thereby enabling animals to reliably respond to the onsets of odor concentrations.
Fruit flies are attracted to the smell of rotting fruit, and use it to guide them to nearby food sources. However, this task is made more challenging by the fact that the distribution of scent or odor molecules in the air is constantly changing. Fruit flies therefore need to cope with, and exploit, this variation if they are to use odors as cues.
Odor molecules bind to receptors on the surface of nerve cells called olfactory sensory neurons, and trigger nerve impulses that travel along these cells. The olfactory sensory neurons are connected to other cells called projection neurons that in turn relay information to the higher centers of the brain. While many studies have investigated how fruit flies can distinguish between different odors, less is known about how animals can use variation in the strength of an odor to guide them towards its source.
Kim et al. have now addressed this question by devising a method for delivering precise quantities of odors in controlled patterns to fruit flies, and then measuring the responses of olfactory sensory neurons and projection neurons. These experiments revealed that olfactory sensory neurons—which are found mainly in the flies' antennae—responded most strongly whenever an odor changed rapidly in strength, and showed relatively little response to constant odors. An independent study by Schulze, Gomez-Marin et al. found that olfactory sensory neurons in fruit fly larvae also respond in a similar way.
Kim et al. also found that the response of the projection neurons depended on both the rate of nerve impulses in the olfactory sensory neurons and on how quickly this rate was changing. But, unlike the olfactory sensory neurons, projection neurons showed their strongest responses immediately after an odor first appeared.
Thus, in contrast to organisms such as bacteria and worms, which are highly sensitive to the local concentration gradients of odors, fruit flies instead appear to be more responsive to the sudden appearance of an odor in their environment. Kim et al. suggest that this difference may reflect the fact that for ground-based organisms, local gradients are generally reliable predictors of the location of an odor source. However, for flying insects, continually changing air currents mean that predictable local gradients are less common. Therefore, the ability to detect a hint of an odor before the wind changes is a more useful skill.
olfactory sensory neurons; projection neurons; temporal processing; acceleration encoding; two-dimensional linear-nonlinear model; antennal lobes; D. melanogaster
To better understand how organisms make decisions on the basis of temporally varying multi-sensory input, we identified computations made by Drosophila larvae responding to visual and optogenetically induced fictive olfactory stimuli. We modeled the larva's navigational decision to initiate turns as the output of a Linear-Nonlinear-Poisson cascade. We used reverse-correlation to fit parameters to this model; the parameterized model predicted larvae's responses to novel stimulus patterns. For multi-modal inputs, we found that larvae linearly combine olfactory and visual signals upstream of the decision to turn. We verified this prediction by measuring larvae's responses to coordinated changes in odor and light. We studied other navigational decisions and found that larvae integrated odor and light according to the same rule in all cases. These results suggest that photo-taxis and odor-taxis are mediated by a shared computational pathway.
Living organisms can sense cues from their surroundings and respond in appropriate ways. For example, animals will often move towards the smell of food or away from potential threats, such as predators. However, it is not fully understood how an animal's nervous system is set up to allow sensory information to control how the animal navigates its environment. It is also not clear how animals ‘decide’ what to do when they receive conflicting information from different senses.
Optogenetics is a technique that allows neuroscientists to control the activities of individual nerve cells simply by shining light on to them. Fruit fly larvae have a simple but well-studied nervous system, and they are nearly transparent, so scientists can use optogenetics to activate nerve cells in freely moving larvae.
Fruit fly larvae move in a series of forward ‘runs’ and direction-changing ‘turns’ and use sensory cues to decide when to turn, how large of a turn to make, and whether to turn left or right. Gepner, Mihovilovic Skanata et al. used optogenetics to stimulate different combinations of sensory nerve cells in larvae, while tracking the larvae's movements to discover exactly what information they used to make these decisions. An independent study by Hernandez-Nunez et al. also used a similar approach.
Fruit fly larvae are attracted towards scents from rotting fruit and are repelled by light—in particular, larvae are most sensitive to blue light but cannot detect red light. Therefore, Gepner, Mihovilovic Skanata et al. could expose the larvae to blue light to activate light-sensing nerve cells as normal, and use red light to activate odor-sensing nerve cells via optogenetics. These experiments showed that larvae changed direction more often when the level of blue light was increased or when the level of red light (which simulated the detection of odors from rotting fruits) was decreased.
Analysis of the data from these experiments revealed that larvae essentially assign negative values to the blue light and positive values to the ‘odor-mimicking’ red light. The larvae then use the sum of these two values to dictate their next move. This suggests that navigation in response to both light and odors is supported by the same pathways in a larva's nervous system.
The approach of using optogenetics in combination with quantitative analysis, as used in these two independent studies, is now opening the door to a more complete understanding of the connections between the activities of sensory nerve cells and perception and behavior.
olfaction; vision; multi-sensory integration; optogenetics; reverse-correlation; D. melanogaster
Coding of information in the peripheral olfactory system depends on two fundamental factors: interaction of individual odors with subsets of the odorant receptor repertoire and mode of signaling that an individual receptor-odor interaction elicits, activation or inhibition. We develop a cheminformatics pipeline that predicts receptor–odorant interactions from a large collection of chemical structures (>240,000) for receptors that have been tested to a smaller panel of odorants (∼100). Using a computational approach, we first identify shared structural features from known ligands of individual receptors. We then use these features to screen in silico new candidate ligands from >240,000 potential volatiles for several Odorant receptors (Ors) in the Drosophila antenna. Functional experiments from 9 Ors support a high success rate (∼71%) for the screen, resulting in identification of numerous new activators and inhibitors. Such computational prediction of receptor–odor interactions has the potential to enable systems level analysis of olfactory receptor repertoires in organisms.
Although our sense of smell is regarded as inferior to that of many other species, we can nevertheless distinguish between roughly 10,000 different odors. These are made up of molecules called odorants, each of which activates a specific subset of odorant receptors in the nose. However, much of what we know about this process has come from studying the fruit fly, Drosophila, which detects odors using receptors located mainly on its antennae.
The number of potential odorants in nature is vast, and only a tiny fraction of the interactions between odorants and receptors can be physically tested. To address this challenge, Boyle et al. have used a computational approach to study in depth the interactions between a subset of 24 odorant receptors in Drosophila antennae and 109 odorants.
After developing a method to identify structural features shared by the odorants that activate each receptor, Boyle et al. used this information to perform a computational (in silico) screen of more than 240,000 different odorant-like volatile compounds. For each receptor, they compiled a list of the 500 odorants predicted to interact most strongly with it. They then tested their predictions for a subset of the receptors by performing experiments in living flies, and found that roughly 71% of predicted compounds did indeed activate or inhibit their receptors, compared to only 10% of a control sample.
In addition to providing new insights into the nature of the interactions between odorants and their receptors, the computational screen devised by Boyle et al. could aid the development of novel insect repellents, or compounds that mask the odors used by disease-causing insects to identify their hosts. It could also be used in the future to develop novel flavors and fragrances.
odorant receptors; antenna; electrophysiology; cheminformatics; D. melanogaster
Mammals can perceive and discriminate myriad volatile chemicals as having a distinct odor. Odorants are initially detected by odorant receptors (ORs) on olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) in the nose. In the mouse, each OSN expresses one of ∼1000 different OR genes. Although OSNs and their expressed ORs constitute the fundamental units of sensory input to the brain, a comprehensive understanding of how they encode odor identities is still lacking. To gain a broader and more detailed understanding of odorant recognition and odor coding at this level, we tested the responses of 3000 mouse OSNs to 125 odorants with diverse structures and perceived odors. These studies revealed extraordinary diversity, but also bias, in odorant recognition by the OSN, and thus OR, repertoire. They indicate that most OSNs are narrowly tuned to detect a subset of odorants with related structures and often related odors, but that the repertoire also includes broadly tuned components. Strikingly, the vast majority of odorants activated a unique set of OSNs, usually two or more in combination. The resulting combinatorial codes varied in size among odorants and sometimes contained both narrowly and broadly tuned components. While many OSNs recognized multiple odorants, some appeared specific for a given pheromone or other animal-associated compound, or for one or more odorants with a particular odor quality, raising the possibility that signals derived from some OSNs and ORs might elicit an innate behavior or convey a specific odor quality.
Most odors are perceived to have the same quality over a large concentration range, but the neural mechanisms that permit concentration-invariant olfactory perception are unknown. In larvae of the vinegar fly Drosophila melanogaster, odors are sensed by an array of 25 odorant receptors expressed in 21 olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs). We investigated how subsets of larval OSNs with overlapping but distinct response properties cooperate to mediate perception of a given odorant across a range of concentrations.
Using calcium imaging, we found that ethyl butyrate, an ester perceived by humans as fruity, activated three OSNs with response thresholds that varied across three orders of magnitude. Whereas wild-type larvae were strongly attracted by this odor across a 500-fold range of concentration, individuals with only a single functional OSN showed attraction across a narrower concentration range corresponding to the sensitivity of each ethyl butyrate-tuned OSN. To clarify how the information carried by different OSNs is integrated by the olfactory system, we characterized the response properties of local inhibitory interneurons and projection neurons in the antennal lobe. Local interneurons only responded to high ethyl butyrate concentrations upon summed activation of at least two OSNs. Projection neurons showed a reduced response to odors when summed input from two OSNs impinged on the circuit compared to when there was only a single functional OSN.
Our results show that increasing odor concentrations induce progressive activation of concentration-tuned olfactory sensory neurons and concomitant recruitment of inhibitory local interneurons. We propose that the interplay of combinatorial OSN input and local interneuron activation allows animals to remain sensitive to odors across a large range of stimulus intensities.
Behavioral strategies employed for chemotaxis have been described across phyla, but the sensorimotor basis of this phenomenon has seldom been studied in naturalistic contexts. Here, we examine how signals experienced during free olfactory behaviors are processed by first-order olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) of the Drosophila larva. We find that OSNs can act as differentiators that transiently normalize stimulus intensity—a property potentially derived from a combination of integral feedback and feed-forward regulation of olfactory transduction. In olfactory virtual reality experiments, we report that high activity levels of the OSN suppress turning, whereas low activity levels facilitate turning. Using a generalized linear model, we explain how peripheral encoding of olfactory stimuli modulates the probability of switching from a run to a turn. Our work clarifies the link between computations carried out at the sensory periphery and action selection underlying navigation in odor gradients.
Fruit flies are attracted to the smell of rotting fruit, and use it to guide them to nearby food sources. However, this task is made more challenging by the fact that the distribution of scent or odor molecules in the air is constantly changing. Fruit flies therefore need to cope with, and exploit, this variation if they are to use odors as cues.
Odor molecules bind to receptors on the surface of nerve cells called olfactory sensory neurons, and trigger nerve impulses that travel along these cells. While many studies have investigated how fruit flies can distinguish between different odors, less is known about how animals can use variation in the strength of an odor to guide them towards its source.
Optogenetics is a technique that allows neuroscientists to control the activities of individual nerve cells, simply by shining light on to them. Because fruit fly larvae are almost transparent, optogenetics can be used on freely moving animals. Now, Schulze, Gomez-Marin et al. have used optogenetics in these larvae to trigger patterns of activity in individual olfactory sensory neurons that mimic the activity patterns elicited by real odors. These virtual realities were then used to study, in detail, some of the principles that control the sensory navigation of a larva—as it moves using a series of forward ‘runs’ and direction-changing ‘turns’.
Olfactory sensory neurons responded most strongly whenever light levels changed rapidly in strength (which simulated a rapid change in odor concentration). On the other hand, these neurons showed relatively little response to constant light levels (i.e., constant odors). This indicates that the activity of olfactory sensory neurons typically represents the rate of change in the concentration of an odor. An independent study by Kim et al. found that olfactory sensory neurons in adult fruit flies also respond in a similar way.
Schulze, Gomez-Marin et al. went on to show that the signals processed by a single type of olfactory sensory neuron could be used to predict a larva's behavior. Larvae tended to turn less when their olfactory sensory neurons were highly active. Low levels and inhibition of activity in the olfactory sensory neurons had the opposite effect; this promoted turning. It remains to be determined how this relatively simple control principle is implemented by the neural circuits that connect sensory neurons to the parts of a larva's nervous system that are involved with movement.
chemotaxis; olfaction; optogenetics; electrophysiology; sensorimotor control; computational modeling; D. melanogaster
To gain insight into which parameters of neural activity are important in shaping the perception of odors, we combined a behavioral measure of odor perception with optical imaging of odor representations at the level of receptor neuron input to the rat olfactory bulb. Instead of the typical test of an animal's ability to discriminate two familiar odorants by exhibiting an operant response, we used a spontaneously expressed response to a novel odorant—exploratory sniffing—as a measure of odor perception. This assay allowed us to measure the speed with which rats perform spontaneous odor discriminations. With this paradigm, rats discriminated and began responding to a novel odorant in as little as 140 ms. This time is comparable to that measured in earlier studies using operant behavioral readouts after extensive training. In a subset of these trials, we simultaneously imaged receptor neuron input to the dorsal olfactory bulb with near-millisecond temporal resolution as the animal sampled and then responded to the novel odorant. The imaging data revealed that the bulk of the discrimination time can be attributed to the peripheral events underlying odorant detection: receptor input arrives at the olfactory bulb 100–150 ms after inhalation begins, leaving only 50–100 ms for central processing and response initiation. In most trials, odor discrimination had occurred even before the initial barrage of receptor neuron firing had ceased and before spatial maps of activity across glomeruli had fully developed. These results suggest a coding strategy in which the earliest-activated glomeruli play a major role in the initial perception of odor quality, and place constraints on coding and processing schemes based on simple changes in spike rate.
Olfactory stimuli elicit temporally complex patterns of activity across groups of receptor neurons as well as across central neurons. It remains unclear which parameters among these complex activity patterns are important in shaping odor perception. To address this issue, we imaged from the olfactory bulb of awake rats as they detected and responded to odorants. We used a spontaneously expressed response to novel odorants—exploratory sniffing—as a behavioral measure of odor perception. This assay allowed us to measure the speed with which rats perform simple odor discriminations by monitoring changes in respiration. Rats discriminated a novel odorant from a learned one in as little as 140 ms. Simultaneously imaging the sensory input to the olfactory bulb carried by receptor neurons revealed that the bulk of the response time is due to the peripheral events underlying odorant detection (inhalation and receptor neuron activation), leaving only 50–100 ms for central processing and response initiation. In most trials, responses to a novel odorant began before the initial barrage of input had ceased and before spatial patterns of input to the bulb had fully developed. These results suggest a coding strategy in which the earliest inputs play a major role in the initial perception of odor quality and place constraints on coding schemes based on simple changes in firing rate.
Imaging the olfactory bulb of awake rats reveals that odor discrimination occurs about 100 ms after sensory input reaches the brain, sharply limiting the role that spike rate and temporal integration can play in coding odor identity.
The lack of a deeper understanding of how olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) encode odors has hindered the progress in understanding the olfactory signal processing in higher brain centers. Here we employ methods of system identification to investigate the encoding of time-varying odor stimuli and their representation for further processing in the spike domain by Drosophila OSNs. In order to apply system identification techniques, we built a novel low-turbulence odor delivery system that allowed us to deliver airborne stimuli in a precise and reproducible fashion. The system provides a 1% tolerance in stimulus reproducibility and an exact control of odor concentration and concentration gradient on a millisecond time scale. Using this novel setup, we recorded and analyzed the in-vivo response of OSNs to a wide range of time-varying odor waveforms. We report for the first time that across trials the response of OR59b OSNs is very precise and reproducible. Further, we empirically show that the response of an OSN depends not only on the concentration, but also on the rate of change of the odor concentration. Moreover, we demonstrate that a two-dimensional (2D) Encoding Manifold in a concentration-concentration gradient space provides a quantitative description of the neuron’s response. We then use the white noise system identification methodology to construct one-dimensional (1D) and two-dimensional (2D) Linear-Nonlinear-Poisson (LNP) cascade models of the sensory neuron for a fixed mean odor concentration and fixed contrast. We show that in terms of predicting the intensity rate of the spike train, the 2D LNP model performs on par with the 1D LNP model, with a root mean-square error (RMSE) increase of about 5 to 10%. Surprisingly, we find that for a fixed contrast of the white noise odor waveforms, the nonlinear block of each of the two models changes with the mean input concentration. The shape of the nonlinearities of both the 1D and the 2D LNP model appears to be, for a fixed mean of the odor waveform, independent of the stimulus contrast. This suggests that white noise system identification of Or59b OSNs only depends on the first moment of the odor concentration. Finally, by comparing the 2D Encoding Manifold and the 2D LNP model, we demonstrate that the OSN identification results depend on the particular type of the employed test odor waveforms. This suggests an adaptive neural encoding model for Or59b OSNs that changes its nonlinearity in response to the odor concentration waveforms.
System identification; Olfactory sensory neurons; White noise analysis; I/O modeling
Behavioral responses to odors rely first upon their accurate detection by peripheral sensory organs followed by subsequent processing within the brain’s olfactory system and higher centers. These processes allow the animal to form a unified impression of the odor environment and recognize combinations of odorants as single entities. To investigate how interactions between peripheral and central olfactory pathways shape odor perception, we transplanted antennal imaginal discs between larval males of two species of moth Heliothis virescens and Heliothis subflexa that utilize distinct pheromone blends. During metamorphic development olfactory receptor neurons originating from transplanted discs formed connections with host brain neurons within olfactory glomeruli of the adult antennal lobe. The normal antennal receptor repertoire exhibited by males of each species reflects the differences in the pheromone blends that these species employ. Behavioral assays of adult transplant males revealed high response levels to two odor blends that were dissimilar from those that attract normal males of either species. Neurophysiological analyses of peripheral receptor neurons and central olfactory neurons revealed that these behavioral responses were a result of: 1. the specificity of H. virescens donor olfactory receptor neurons for odorants unique to the donor pheromone blend and, 2. central odor recognition by the H. subflexa host brain, which typically requires peripheral receptor input across 3 distinct odor channels in order to elicit behavioral responses.
The Drosophila larva possesses just 21 unique and identifiable pairs of olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs), enabling investigation of the contribution of individual OSN classes to the peripheral olfactory code. We combined electrophysiological and computational modeling to explore the nature of the peripheral olfactory code in situ. We recorded firing responses of 19/21 OSNs to a panel of 19 odors. This was achieved by creating larvae expressing just one functioning class of odorant receptor, and hence OSN. Odor response profiles of each OSN class were highly specific and unique. However many OSN-odor pairs yielded variable responses, some of which were statistically indistinguishable from background activity. We used these electrophysiological data, incorporating both responses and spontaneous firing activity, to develop a Bayesian decoding model of olfactory processing. The model was able to accurately predict odor identity from raw OSN responses; prediction accuracy ranged from 12%–77% (mean for all odors 45.2%) but was always significantly above chance (5.6%). However, there was no correlation between prediction accuracy for a given odor and the strength of responses of wild-type larvae to the same odor in a behavioral assay. We also used the model to predict the ability of the code to discriminate between pairs of odors. Some of these predictions were supported in a behavioral discrimination (masking) assay but others were not. We conclude that our model of the peripheral code represents basic features of odor detection and discrimination, yielding insights into the information available to higher processing structures in the brain.
Successful cooperation depends on reliable identification of friends and foes. Social insects discriminate colony members (nestmates/friends) from foreign workers (non-nestmates/foes) by colony-specific, multi-component colony odors. Traditionally, complex processing in the brain has been regarded as crucial for colony recognition. Odor information is represented as spatial patterns of activity and processed in the primary olfactory neuropile, the antennal lobe (AL) of insects, which is analogous to the vertebrate olfactory bulb. Correlative evidence indicates that the spatial activity patterns reflect odor-quality, i.e., how an odor is perceived. For colony odors, alternatively, a sensory filter in the peripheral nervous system was suggested, causing specific anosmia to nestmate colony odors. Here, we investigate neuronal correlates of colony odors in the brain of a social insect to directly test whether they are anosmic to nestmate colony odors and whether spatial activity patterns in the AL can predict how odor qualities like “friend” and “foe” are attributed to colony odors.
Using ant dummies that mimic natural conditions, we presented colony odors and investigated their neuronal representation in the ant Camponotus floridanus. Nestmate and non-nestmate colony odors elicited neuronal activity: In the periphery, we recorded sensory responses of olfactory receptor neurons (electroantennography), and in the brain, we measured colony odor specific spatial activity patterns in the AL (calcium imaging). Surprisingly, upon repeated stimulation with the same colony odor, spatial activity patterns were variable, and as variable as activity patterns elicited by different colony odors.
Ants are not anosmic to nestmate colony odors. However, spatial activity patterns in the AL alone do not provide sufficient information for colony odor discrimination and this finding challenges the current notion of how odor quality is coded. Our result illustrates the enormous challenge for the nervous system to classify multi-component odors and indicates that other neuronal parameters, e.g., precise timing of neuronal activity, are likely necessary for attribution of odor quality to multi-component odors.
The rules by which odor receptors encode odors and allow behavior are still largely unexplored. Although large data sets of electrophysiological responses of receptors to odors have been generated, few hypotheses have been tested with behavioral assays. We use a data set on odor responses of Drosophila larval odor receptors coupled with chemotaxis behavioral assays to examine rules of odor coding. Using mutants of odor receptors, we have found that odor receptors with similar electrophysiological responses to odors across concentrations play non-redundant roles in odor coding at specific odor concentrations. We have also found that high affinity receptors for odors determine behavioral response thresholds, but the rules for determining peak behavioral responses are more complex. While receptor mutants typically show loss of attraction to odors, some receptor mutants result in increased attraction at specific odor concentrations. The odor receptor mutants were rescued using transgenic expression of odor receptors, validating assignment of phenotypes to the alleles. Vapor pressures alone cannot fully explain behavior in our assay. Finally, some odors that did not elicit strong electrophysiological responses are associated with behavioral phenotypes upon examination of odor receptor mutants. This result is consistent with the role of sensory neurons in lateral inhibition via local interneurons in the antennal lobe. Taken together, our results suggest a complexity of odor coding rules even in a simple olfactory sensory system.
Odor receptors; Olfaction; Drosophila; Or42a; Or42b
Olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs) must select—from a large repertoire—which odor receptors to express. In Drosophila, most ORNs express one of 60 Or genes, and most Or genes are expressed in a single ORN class in a process that produces a stereotyped receptor-to-neuron map. The construction of this map poses a problem of receptor gene regulation that is remarkable in its dimension and about which little is known. By using a phylogenetic approach and the genome sequences of 12 Drosophila species, we systematically identified regulatory elements that are evolutionarily conserved and specific for individual Or genes of the maxillary palp. Genetic analysis of these elements supports a model in which each receptor gene contains a zip code, consisting of elements that act positively to promote expression in a subset of ORN classes, and elements that restrict expression to a single ORN class. We identified a transcription factor, Scalloped, that mediates repression. Some elements are used in other chemosensory organs, and some are conserved upstream of axon-guidance genes. Surprisingly, the odor response spectra and organization of maxillary palp ORNs have been extremely well-conserved for tens of millions of years, even though the amino acid sequences of the receptors are not highly conserved. These results, taken together, define the logic by which individual ORNs in the maxillary palp select which odor receptors to express.
Odors are detected by olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs). Which odor an individual neuron detects is dictated by the odor receptors it expresses. Odor receptors are encoded by large families of genes, and an individual neuron must thus select the gene it expresses from among many possibilities. The mechanism underlying this choice is largely unknown. We have examined the problem of receptor gene choice in the fruit fly Drosophila, whose maxillary palp contains six functional classes of ORNs, each expressing different odor receptor genes. By comparing the DNA sequences flanking these genes in 12 different species of Drosophila, we have identified regulatory elements that are evolutionarily conserved and specific to each odor receptor. Genetic analysis of these elements showed that some act positively to dictate expression in a subset of ORNs, while others act negatively to restrict the expression of a receptor gene to a particular ORN class. We identified a transcription factor, Scalloped, that mediates repression. We were surprised to find that the odor response spectra of these neurons have been well-conserved for tens of millions of years, even though the amino acid sequences of their receptors have diverged considerably.
How does an olfactory receptor neuron select which odor receptor to express? A computational analysis of 12Drosophila genomes combined with mutational analysis identifies conservedcis elements and defines a regulatory code.
Sensory inputs are remarkably organized along all sensory pathways. While sensory representations are known to undergo plasticity at the higher levels of sensory pathways following peripheral lesions or sensory experience, less is known about the functional plasticity of peripheral inputs induced by learning. We addressed this question in the adult mouse olfactory system by combining odor discrimination studies with functional imaging of sensory input activity in awake mice. Here we show that associative learning, but not passive odor exposure, potentiates the strength of sensory inputs up to several weeks after the end of training. We conclude that experience-dependent plasticity can occur in the periphery of adult mouse olfactory system, which should improve odor detection and contribute towards accurate and fast odor discriminations.
The mammalian brain is not static, but instead retains a significant degree of plasticity throughout an animal’s life. It is this plasticity that enables adults to learn new things, adjust to new environments and, to some degree, regain functions they have lost as a result of brain damage.
However, information about the environment must first be detected and encoded by the senses. Odors, for example, activate specific receptors in the nose, and these in turn project to structures called glomeruli in a region of the brain known as the olfactory bulb. Each odor activates a unique combination of glomeruli, and the information contained within this ‘odor fingerprint’ is relayed via olfactory bulb neurons to the olfactory cortex.
Now, Abraham et al. have revealed that the earliest stages of odor processing also show plasticity in adult animals. Two groups of mice were exposed to the same two odors: however, the first group was trained to discriminate between the odors to obtain a reward, whereas the second group was passively exposed to them. When both groups of mice were subsequently re-exposed to the odors, the trained group activated more glomeruli, more strongly, than a control group that had never encountered the odors before. By contrast, the responses of mice in the passively exposed group did not differ from those of a control group.
Given that the response of glomeruli correlates with the ability of mice to discriminate between odors, these results suggest that trained animals would now be able to discriminate between the odors more easily than other mice. In other words, sensory plasticity ensures that stimuli that have been associatively learned with or without reward will be easier to detect should they be encountered again in the future.
sensory perception; imaging; behavior; mouse
Olfactory system second-order neurons, mitral–tufted cells, have odorant receptive fields (ORFs) (molecular receptive ranges in odorant space for carbon chain length in organic odorant molecules). This study quantified several dimensions of these excitatory odorant receptive fields to novel odorants in rats and then examined the effects of passive odorant exposure on the shape of the ORF-tuning curve. ORFs for carbon chain length of novel ethyl esters (pure odorants that the animals had not been exposed to previously) were determined before and after a 50 sec prolonged exposure to one of the odorants. In response to novel odorants, quantitative analysis of mitral–tufted cell excitatory ORFs revealed that the median ORF width spanned 3–4 carbons, generally with a single-most excitatory odorant. Exposure to either the most excitatory odorant (ON-PEAK) or an odorant that was two carbons longer (OFF-PEAK) for 50 sec produced whole ORF suppression immediately after the end of the prolonged exposure, with the ON-PEAK exposure producing the greatest suppression. These results are consistent with a feature-detecting function for mitral–tufted cells. Redetermination of the ORF 15 and 60 min after the exposure revealed that OFF-PEAK exposure produced a reduction in responsiveness to the best odorant and an increase in responsiveness to the exposed odorant. In contrast, exposure to the ON-PEAK odorant or no odorant did not affect ORFs. Given that mitral–tufted cells receive exclusive excitatory input from olfactory receptor neurons expressing identical receptor proteins, it is hypothesized that experience-induced mitral–tufted cell ORF changes reflect modulation of lateral and centrifugal olfactory bulb circuits.
perceptual learning; olfactory memory; receptive field; odor coding; dynamic processing; mitral cell; habituation; adaptation; odorant receptive fields
On the basis of its primary circuit it has been postulated that the olfactory bulb (OB) is analogous to the retina in mammals. In retina, repeated exposure to the same visual stimulus results in a neural representation that remains relatively stable over time, even as the meaning of that stimulus to the animal changes. Stability of stimulus representation at early stages of processing allows for unbiased interpretation of incoming stimuli by higher order cortical centers. The alternative is that early stimulus representation is shaped by previously derived meaning, which could allow more efficient sampling of odor space providing a simplified yet biased interpretation of incoming stimuli. This study helps place the olfactory system on this continuum of subjective versus objective early sensory representation. Here we show that odor responses of the output cells of the OB, mitral cells, change transiently during a go–no-go odor discrimination task. The response changes occur in a manner that increases the ability of the circuit to convey information necessary to discriminate among closely related odors. Remarkably, a switch between which of the two odors is rewarded causes mitral cells to switch the polarity of their divergent responses. Taken together these results redefine the function of the OB as a transiently modifiable (active) filter, shaping early odor representations in behaviorally meaningful ways.
The way in which the brain represents and processes sensory information remains a fundamental question. One model posits that stable neural representation of a stimulus during early stages of stimulus processing allows for unbiased interpretation of incoming stimuli by higher order cortical centers. Alternately, early stimulus representation could be shaped by previous experience, thus providing a biased yet relevant interpretation of incoming stimuli. This study examines the activity of output cells, mitral cells, from the first stage of odor information processing in the olfactory bulb during an odor discrimination task. We found that odor responses changed during the task in a manner that increased the ability of the circuit to convey information necessary to discriminate among closely related odors. A switch between which of the two odors were rewarded caused mitral cells to switch the polarity of their divergent responses in behaviorally relevant ways. These results show that early neural representations of odor can be shaped by previously derived meaning, providing a simplified yet biased interpretation of the odor environment to higher cortical structures.
Early neural representation of odor can be shaped by previously derived meaning, providing a simplified yet biased interpretation of the odor environment to higher cortical structures.
Turbulent fluid landscapes impose temporal patterning upon chemical signals, and the dynamical neuronal responses to patterned input vary across the olfactory receptor repertoire in flies, moths, and locusts. Sensory transformations exhibit low pass filtering that ultimately results in perceptual fusion of temporally transient sensory signals. For example, humans perceive a sufficiently fast flickering light as continuous, but the frequency threshold at which this fusion occurs varies with wavelength. Although the summed frequency sensitivity of the fly antenna has been examined to a considerable extent, it is unknown how intermittent odor signals are integrated to influence plume tracking behavior independent of wind cues, and whether temporal fusion for behavioral tracking might vary according to the odor encountered.
Here we have adopted a virtual reality flight simulator to study the dynamics of plume tracking under different experimental conditions. Flies tethered in a magnetic field actively track continuous (non-intermittent) plumes of vinegar, banana, or ethyl butyrate with equal precision. However, pulsing these plumes at varying frequency reveals that the threshold rate, above which flies track the plume as if it were continuous, is unique for each odorant tested. Thus, the capability of a fly to navigate an intermittent plume depends on the particular odorant being tracked during flight. Finally, we measured antennal field potential responses to an intermittent plume, found that receptor dynamics track the temporal pattern of the odor stimulus and therefore do not limit the observed behavioral temporal fusion limits.
This study explores the flies' ability to track odor plumes that are temporally intermittent. We were surprised to find that the perceptual critical fusion limit, determined behaviorally, is strongly dependent on odor identity. Antennal field potential recordings indicate that peripheral processing of temporal cues faithfully follow rapid odor transients above the rates that can be resolved behaviorally. These results indicate that (1) higher order circuits create a perceptually continuous signal from an intermittent sensory one, and that (2) this transformation varies with odorant rather than being constrained by sensory-motor integration, thus (3) offering an entry point for examining the mechanisms of rapid olfactory decision making in an ecological context.
To internally reflect the sensory environment, animals create neural maps encoding the external stimulus space. From that primary neural code relevant information has to be extracted for accurate navigation. We analyzed how different odor features such as hedonic valence and intensity are functionally integrated in the lateral horn (LH) of the vinegar fly, Drosophila melanogaster. We characterized an olfactory-processing pathway, comprised of inhibitory projection neurons (iPNs) that target the LH exclusively, at morphological, functional and behavioral levels. We demonstrate that iPNs are subdivided into two morphological groups encoding positive hedonic valence or intensity information and conveying these features into separate domains in the LH. Silencing iPNs severely diminished flies' attraction behavior. Moreover, functional imaging disclosed a LH region tuned to repulsive odors comprised exclusively of third-order neurons. We provide evidence for a feature-based map in the LH, and elucidate its role as the center for integrating behaviorally relevant olfactory information.
Organisms need to sense and adapt to their environment in order to survive. Senses such as vision and smell allow an organism to absorb information about the external environment and translate it into a meaningful internal image. This internal image helps the organism to remember incidents and act accordingly when they encounter similar situations again. A typical example is when organisms are repeatedly attracted to odors that are essential for survival, such as food and pheromones, and are repulsed by odors that threaten survival.
Strutz et al. addressed how attractiveness or repulsiveness of a smell, and also the strength of a smell, are processed by a part of the olfactory system called the lateral horn in fruit flies. This involved mapping the neuronal patterns that were generated in the lateral horn when a fly was exposed to particular odors.
Strutz et al. found that a subset of neurons called inhibitory projection neurons processes information about whether the odor is attractive or repulsive, and that a second subset of these neurons process information about the intensity of the odor. Other insects, such as honey bees and hawk moths, have olfactory systems with a similar architecture and might also employ a similar spatial approach to encode information regarding the intensity and identity of odors. Locusts, on the other hand, employ a temporal approach to encoding information about odors.
The work of Strutz et al. shows that certain qualities of odors are contained in a spatial map in a specific brain region of the fly. This opens up the question of how the information in this spatial map influences decisions made by the fly.
olfaction; neural circuit; lateral horn; antennal lobe; odor processing; functional imaging; D. melanogaster
Chemotaxis is important for the survival of most animals. How the brain translates sensory input into motor output beyond higher olfactory processing centers is largely unknown. We describe a group of excitatory neurons, termed Odd neurons, which are important for Drosophila larval chemotaxis. Odd neurons receive synaptic input from projection neurons in the calyx of the mushroom body and project axons to the central brain. Functional imaging shows that some of the Odd neurons respond to odor. Larvae in which Odd neurons are silenced are less efficient at odor tracking than controls and sample the odor space more frequently. Larvae in which the excitability of Odd neurons is increased are better at odor intensity discrimination and odor tracking. Thus, the Odd neurons represent a distinct pathway that regulates the sensitivity of the olfactory system to odor concentrations, demonstrating that efficient chemotaxis depends on processing of odor strength downstream of higher olfactory centers.
behavior; chemotaxis; Drosophila; mushroom body; olfaction
It is well established that perception is largely multisensory ; often served by modalities such as touch, vision, and hearing that detect stimuli emanating from a common point in space [2, 3]; and processed by brain tissue maps that are spatially aligned . However, the neural interactions among modalities that share no spatial stimulus domain yet are essential for robust perception within noisy environments remain uncharacterized. Drosophila melanogaster makes its living navigating food odor plumes. Odor acts to increase the strength of gaze-stabilizing optomotor reflexes  to keep the animal aligned within an invisible plume, facilitating odor localization in free flight [6–8]. Here, we investigate the cellular mechanism for cross-modal behavioral interactions. We characterize a wide-field motion-selective interneuron of the lobula plate that shares anatomical and physiological similarities with the “Hx” neuron identified in larger flies [9, 10]. Drosophila Hx exhibits cross-modal enhancement of visual responses by paired odor, and presynaptic inputs to the lobula plate are required for behavioral odor tracking but are not themselves the target of odor modulation, nor is the neighboring wide-field “HSE” neuron . Octopaminergic neurons mediating increased visual responses upon flight initiation  also show odor-evoked calcium modulations and form connections with Hx dendrites. Finally, restoring synaptic vesicle trafficking within the octopaminergic neurons of animals carrying a null mutation for all aminergic signaling  is sufficient to restore odor-tracking behavior. These results are the first to demonstrate cellular mechanisms underlying visual-olfactory integration required for odor localization in fruit flies, which may be representative of adaptive multisensory interactions across taxa.
•Small-field motion detection neurons are required for odor-tracking behavior•Responses of a directional wide-field interneuron (Hx) increase with paired odor•Odor activates octopaminergic (OA) neurons that innervate the visual system•OA cells contact Hx; OA vesicle trafficking is required for odor-tracking behavior
Wasserman et al. report that a directionally selective wide-field motion-detecting neuron (Hx) in the fly increases response gain with paired odor. This multimodal interaction is dependent upon vesicle trafficking from octopaminergic neurons, which are themselves responsive to odor and make cell-cell contact with Hx.
A unifying feature of mammalian and insect olfactory systems is that olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) expressing the same unique odorant receptor gene converge onto the same glomeruli in the brain (1–7). Most odorants activate a combination of receptors and thus distinct patterns of glomeruli, forming a proposed combinatorial spatial code that could support discrimination between a large number of odorants (8–11). OSNs also exhibit odor-evoked responses with complex temporal dynamics (11), but the contribution of this activity to behavioral odor discrimination has received little attention (12). Here we investigated the importance of spatial encoding in the relatively simple Drosophila antennal lobe. We show that Drosophila can learn to discriminate between two odorants with one functional class of Or83b-expressing OSNs. Furthermore, these flies encode one odorant from a mixture, and cross-adapt to odorants that activate the relevant OSN class, demonstrating that they discriminate odorants using the same OSNs. Lastly, flies with a single class of Or83b-expressing OSNs recognize a specific odorant across a range of concentration indicating that they encode odorant identity. Therefore flies can distinguish odorants without discrete spatial codes in the antennal lobe, implying an important role for odorant-evoked temporal dynamics in behavioral odorant discrimination.
While most sensory neurons will adapt to prolonged stimulation by down-regulating their responsiveness to the signal, it is not clear which events initiate long-lasting sensory adaptation. Likewise, we are just beginning to understand how the physiology of the adapted cell is altered. Caenorhabditis elegans is inherently attracted to specific odors that are sensed by the paired AWC olfactory sensory neurons. The attraction diminishes if the animal experiences these odors for a prolonged period of time in the absence of food. The AWC neuron responds acutely to odor-exposure by closing calcium channels. While odortaxis requires a Gα subunit protein, cGMP-gated channels, and guanylyl cyclases, adaptation to prolonged odor exposure requires nuclear entry of the cGMP-dependent protein kinase, EGL-4. We asked which candidate members of the olfactory signal transduction pathway promote nuclear entry of EGL-4 and which molecules might induce long-term adaptation downstream of EGL-4 nuclear entry. We found that initiation of long-term adaptation, as assessed by nuclear entry of EGL-4, is dependent on G-protein mediated signaling but is independent of fluxes in calcium levels. We show that long-term adaptation requires polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) that may act on the transient receptor potential (TRP) channel type V OSM-9 downstream of EGL-4 nuclear entry. We also present evidence that high diacylglycerol (DAG) levels block long-term adaptation without affecting EGL-4 nuclear entry. Our analysis provides a model for the process of long-term adaptation that occurs within the AWC neuron of C. elegans: G-protein signaling initiates long-lasting olfactory adaptation by promoting the nuclear entry of EGL-4, and once EGL-4 has entered the nucleus, processes such as PUFA activation of the TRP channel OSM-9 may dampen the output of the AWC neuron.
Caenorhabditis elegans is capable of sensing a variety of attractive volatile compounds. These odors are the worm's “best guesses” as to how to track down food. Employing calculated approximations underlies a foraging strategy that is open to failure. When C. elegans track an odor which proves unrewarding, they must modify their behavior based on this experience. They also need to prevent over-stimulating their neurons. To accomplish this, C. elegans olfactory sensory neurons adapt to odors after a sustained exposure to odor in the absence of food. Within the pair of primary odor-sensory neurons, termed the AWCs, adaptation requires the cGMP-dependent protein kinase G (PKG), EGL-4. Exposing animals to AWC–sensed odors for approximately 60 minutes results in a long-lasting (∼3 hour) adaptation that requires the nuclear translocation of EGL-4. To understand how sensory transduction and desensitization machinery converge to achieve olfactory adaptation, we asked whether odor-induced EGL-4 nuclear accumulation was affected by gene mutations that abrogate either odor sensation of or adaptation to AWC–sensed odors. We find that G-protein signaling represents the integration point where primary odor sensation and odor adaptation pathways diverge. PUFA signaling, calcium, and decreased diacylglycerol all dampen the response of the AWC neuron to odor downstream of this divergence.
Neuromodulation of olfactory circuits by acetylcholine (ACh) plays an important role in odor discrimination and learning. Early processing of chemosensory signals occurs in two functionally and anatomically distinct regions, the main and accessory olfactory bulbs (MOB and AOB), which receive extensive cholinergic input from the basal forebrain. Here, we explore the regulation of AOB and MOB circuits by ACh, and how cholinergic modulation influences olfactory-mediated behaviors in mice. Surprisingly, despite the presence of a conserved circuit, activation of muscarinic ACh receptors revealed marked differences in cholinergic modulation of output neurons: excitation in the AOB and inhibition in the MOB. Granule cells (GCs), the most abundant intrinsic neuron in the OB, also exhibited a complex muscarinic response. While GCs in the AOB were excited, MOB GCs exhibited a dual muscarinic action in the form of a hyperpolarization and an increase in excitability uncovered by cell depolarization. Furthermore, ACh influenced the input–output relationship of mitral cells in the AOB and MOB differently showing a net effect on gain in mitral cells of the MOB, but not in the AOB. Interestingly, despite the striking differences in neuromodulatory actions on output neurons, chemogenetic inhibition of cholinergic neurons produced similar perturbations in olfactory behaviors mediated by these two regions. Decreasing ACh in the OB disrupted the natural discrimination of molecularly related odors and the natural investigation of odors associated with social behaviors. Thus, the distinct neuromodulation by ACh in these circuits could underlie different solutions to the processing of general odors and semiochemicals, and the diverse olfactory behaviors they trigger.
SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT State-dependent cholinergic modulation of brain circuits is critical for several high-level cognitive functions, including attention and memory. Here, we provide new evidence that cholinergic modulation differentially regulates two parallel circuits that process chemosensory information, the accessory and main olfactory bulb (AOB and MOB, respectively). These circuits consist of remarkably similar synaptic arrangement and neuronal types, yet cholinergic regulation produced strikingly opposing effects in output and intrinsic neurons. Despite these differences, the chemogenetic reduction of cholinergic activity in freely behaving animals disrupted odor discrimination of simple odors, and the investigation of social odors associated with behaviors signaled by the Vomeronasal system.
accessory olfactory bulb; aggression; cholinergic; muscarinic; olfactory; social behavior
An intriguing question in the field of olfaction is how animals distinguish among structurally similar odorants. We systematically analyzed olfactory responses elicited by a panel of 25 pyrazines. We found that structurally similar pyrazines elicit a wide range of behavioral responses from Drosophila larvae. Each pyrazine was tested against all functional receptors of the larval Odor receptor (Or) repertoire, yielding 525 odorant–receptor combinations. Different pyrazines vary markedly in the responses they elicit from the Or repertoire, with most strong responses deriving from two receptors, Or33b and Or59a. Surprisingly, 2-ethylpyrazine and 2-methylpyrazine, which elicit strikingly similar physiological responses across the receptor repertoire, elicit dramatically different behavioral responses. A small fraction of odorant-receptor combinations elicit remarkably long responses. These responses, which we term “supersustained” responses, are receptor specific and odorant specific, and can last for minutes. Such supersustained responses may prevent olfactory neurons from reporting contemporaneous information about the local odor environment. Odors that elicit such responses could provide a novel means of controlling insect pests and vectors of human disease by impairing the location of human hosts, food sources, and mates.
Neural activity underlying odor representations in the mammalian olfactory system is strongly patterned by respiratory behavior; these dynamics are central to many models of olfactory information processing. We have previously found that sensory inputs to the olfactory bulb change both their magnitude and temporal structure as a function of sniff frequency. Here, we asked how sniff frequency affects responses of mitral/tufted (MT) cells – the principal olfactory bulb output neuron. We recorded from MT cells in anesthetized rats while reproducing sniffs recorded previously from awake animals and varying sniff frequency. The dynamics of a sniff-evoked response were consistent from sniff to sniff but varied across cells. Compared to the dynamics of receptor neuron activation by the same sniffs, the MT response was shorter and faster, reflecting a temporal sharpening of sensory inputs. Increasing sniff frequency led to moderate attenuation of MT response magnitude and significant changes in the temporal structure of the sniff-evoked MT cell response. Most MT cells responded with a shorter duration and shorter rise-time spike burst as sniff frequency increased, reflecting increased temporal sharpening of inputs by the olfactory bulb. These temporal changes were necessary and sufficient to maintain respiratory modulation in the MT cell population across the range of sniff frequencies expressed during behavior. These results suggest that the input-output relationship in the olfactory bulb varies dynamically as a function of sniff frequency, and that one function of the postsynaptic network is to maintain robust temporal encoding of odor information across different odor sampling strategies.