An animal navigating to an unseen odor source must accurately resolve the spatiotemporal distribution of that stimulus in order to express appropriate upwind flight behavior. Intermittency of natural odor plumes, caused by air turbulence, is critically important for many insects, including the hawkmoth, Manduca sexta, for odor-modulated search behavior to an odor source. When a moth's antennae receive intermittent odor stimulation, the projection neurons (PNs) in the primary olfactory centers (the antennal lobes), which are analogous to the olfactory bulbs of vertebrates, generate discrete bursts of action potentials separated by periods of inhibition, suggesting that the PNs may use the binary burst/non-burst neural patterns to resolve and enhance the intermittency of the stimulus encountered in the odor plume.
We tested this hypothesis first by establishing that bicuculline methiodide reliably and reversibly disrupted the ability of PNs to produce bursting response patterns. Behavioral studies, in turn, demonstrated that after injecting this drug into the antennal lobe at the effective concentration used in the physiological experiments animals could no longer efficiently locate the odor source, even though they had detected the odor signal.
Our results establish a direct link between the bursting response pattern of PNs and the odor-tracking behavior of the moth, demonstrating the behavioral significance of resolving the dynamics of a natural odor stimulus in antennal lobe circuits.
Fruit flies make their living on the fly in search of attractive food odors. To maintain forward flight, flies balance the strength of self-induced bilateral visual motion  and bilateral wind cues , but it is unknown whether they use bilateral olfactory cues to track odors in flight. Tracking an odor gradient requires comparisons across two spatially separated chemosensory organs and has been observed in several walking insects [3–5], including Drosophila . The olfactory antennae are separated by a fraction of a millimeter, and most sensory neurons project bilaterally and symmetrically activate the first-order olfactory relay [7, 8], both of which would seem to constrain the capacity for bilateral sensory comparisons. Are fruit flies nonetheless able to track an odor gradient during flight? Using a modified flight simulator that enables maneuvers in the yaw axis , we found that flies readily steer directly toward a laterally positioned odor plume. This capability is abolished by occluding sensory input to one antenna. Mechanosensory input from the Johnston’s organ and olfactory input from the third antennal segment cooperate to direct small angle yaw turns up the plume gradient. We additionally show that sensory signals from the left antenna contribute disproportionately more to odor tracking than the right, providing further evidence of sensory lateralization in invertebrates [10–13].
Sensory systems sample the external world actively, within the context of self-motion induced disturbances. Mammals sample olfactory cues within the context of respiratory cycles and have adapted to process olfactory information within the time frame of a single sniff cycle. In plume tracking insects, it remains unknown whether olfactory processing is adapted to wing beating, which causes similar physical effects as sniffing. To explore this we first characterized the physical properties of our odor delivery system using hotwire anemometry and photo ionization detection, which confirmed that odor stimuli were temporally structured. Electroantennograms confirmed that pulse trains were tracked physiologically. Next, we quantified odor detection in moths in a series of psychophysical experiments to determine whether pulsing odor affected acuity. Moths were first conditioned to respond to a target odorant using Pavlovian olfactory conditioning. At 24 and 48 h after conditioning, moths were tested with a dilution series of the conditioned odor. On separate days odor was presented either continuously or as 20 Hz pulse trains to simulate wing beating effects. We varied pulse train duty cycle, olfactometer outflow velocity, pulsing method, and odor. Results of these studies, established that detection was enhanced when odors were pulsed. Higher velocity and briefer pulses also enhanced detection. Post hoc analysis indicated enhanced detection was the result of a significantly lower behavioral response to blank stimuli when presented as pulse trains. Since blank responses are a measure of false positive responses, this suggests that the olfactory system makes fewer errors (i.e. is more reliable) when odors are experienced as pulse trains. We therefore postulate that the olfactory system of Manduca sexta may have evolved mechanisms to enhance odor detection during flight, where the effects of wing beating represent the norm. This system may even exploit temporal structure in a manner similar to sniffing.
Crustaceans such as crabs, lobsters and crayfish use dispersing odorant molecules to determine the location of predators, prey, potential mates and habitat. Odorant molecules diffuse in turbulent flows and are sensed by the olfactory organs of these animals, often using a flicking motion of their antennules. These antennules contain both chemosensory and mechanosensory sensilla, which enable them to detect both flow and odorants during a flick. To determine how simultaneous flow and odorant sampling can aid in search behavior, a 3-dimensional numerical model for the near-bed flow environment was created. A stream of odorant concentration was released into the flow creating a turbulent plume, and both temporally and spatially fluctuating velocity and odorant concentration were quantified. The plume characteristics show close resemblance to experimental measurements within a large laboratory flume. Results show that mean odorant concentration and it's intermittency, computed as dc/dt, increase towards the plume source, but the temporal and spatial rate of this increase is slow and suggests that long measurement times would be necessary to be useful for chemosensory guidance. Odorant fluxes measured transverse to the mean flow direction, quantified as the product of the instantaneous fluctuation in concentration and velocity, v′c′, do show statistically distinct magnitude and directional information on either side of a plume centerline over integration times of <0.5 s. Aquatic animals typically have neural responses to odorant and velocity fields at rates between 50 and 500 ms, suggesting this simultaneous sampling of both flow and concentration in a turbulent plume can aid in source tracking on timescales relevant to aquatic animals.
plume; olfaction; turbulence; tracking; crustacean; odorants
It has been clear for many years that insects use visual cues to stabilize their heading in a wind stream. Many animals track odors carried in the wind. As such, visual stabilization of upwind tracking directly aids in odor tracking. But do olfactory signals directly influence visual tracking behavior independently from wind cues? Also, the recent deluge of research on the neurophysiology and neurobehavioral genetics of olfaction in Drosophila has motivated ever more technically sophisticated and quantitative behavioral assays. Here, we modified a magnetic tether system originally devised for vision experiments by equipping the arena with narrow laminar flow odor plumes. A fly is glued to a small steel pin and suspended in a magnetic field that enables it to yaw freely. Small diameter food odor plumes are directed downward over the fly s head, eliciting stable tracking by a hungry fly. Here we focus on the critical mechanics of tethering, aligning the magnets, devising the odor plume, and confirming stable odor tracking.
Many see fruit flies as an annoyance, invading our homes with a nagging persistence and efficiency. Yet from a scientific perspective, these tiny animals are a wonder of multisensory integration, capable of tracking fragmented odor plumes amidst turbulent winds and constantly varying visual conditions. The peripheral olfactory, mechanosensory, and visual systems of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, have been studied in great detail;1–4 however, the mechanisms by which fly brains integrate information from multiple sensory modalities to facilitate robust odor tracking remain elusive. Our studies on olfactory orientation by flying flies reveal that these animals do not simply follow their “nose“; rather, fruit flies require mechanosensory and visual input to track odors in flight.5,6 Collectively, these results shed light on the neural circuits involved in odor localization by fruit flies in the wild and illuminate the elegant complexity underlying a behavior to which the annoyed and amazed are familiar.
vision; olfaction; mechanosensory; antennae; visual processing; motor control; insect behavior; behavioral neuroscience; neuroethology; sensory ecology
Animals use behaviors to actively sample the environment across a broad spectrum of sensory domains. These behaviors discretize the sensory experience into unique spatiotemporal moments, minimize sensory adaptation, and enhance perception. In olfaction, behaviors such as sniffing, antennal flicking, and wing beating all act to periodically expose olfactory epithelium. In mammals, it is thought that sniffing enhances neural representations; however, the effects of insect wing beating on representations remain unknown. To determine how well the antennal lobe (AL) produces odor dependent representations when wing beating effects are simulated, we used extracellular methods to record neural units and local field potentials (LFPs) from moth AL. We recorded responses to odors presented as prolonged continuous stimuli or periodically as 20 and 25 Hz pulse trains designed to simulate the oscillating effects of wing beating around the antennae during odor guided flight. Using spectral analyses, we show that ~25% of all recorded units were able to entrain to “pulsed stimuli”; this includes pulsed blanks, which elicited the strongest overall entrainment. The strength of entrainment to pulse train stimuli was dependent on molecular features of the odorants, odor concentration, and pulse train duration. Moreover, units showing pulse tracking responses were highly phase locked to LFPs during odor stimulation, indicating that unit-LFP phase relationships are stimulus-driven. Finally, a Euclidean distance-based population vector analysis established that AL odor representations are more robust, peak more quickly, and do not show adaptation when odors were presented at the natural wing beat frequency as opposed to prolonged continuous stimulation. These results suggest a general strategy for optimizing olfactory representations, which exploits the natural rhythmicity of wing beating by integrating mechanosensory and olfactory cues at the level of the AL.
olfaction; temporal coding; oscillations; synchrony; active sensing; sniffing; odor representation
Mosquito host-seeking behavior and heterogeneity in host distribution are important factors in predicting the transmission dynamics of mosquito-borne infections such as dengue fever, malaria, chikungunya, and West Nile virus. We develop and analyze a new mathematical model to describe the effect of spatial heterogeneity on the contact rate between mosquito vectors and hosts. The model includes odor plumes generated by spatially distributed hosts, wind velocity, and mosquito behavior based on both the prevailing wind and the odor plume. On a spatial scale of meters and a time scale of minutes, we compare the effectiveness of different plume-finding and plume-tracking strategies that mosquitoes could use to locate a host. The results show that two different models of chemotaxis are capable of producing comparable results given appropriate parameter choices and that host finding is optimized by a strategy of flying across the wind until the odor plume is intercepted. We also assess the impact of changing the level of host aggregation on mosquito host-finding success near the end of the host-seeking flight. When clusters of hosts are more tightly associated on smaller patches, the odor plume is narrower and the biting rate per host is decreased. For two host groups of unequal number but equal spatial density, the biting rate per host is lower in the group with more individuals, indicative of an attack abatement effect of host aggregation. We discuss how this approach could assist parameter choices in compartmental models that do not explicitly model the spatial arrangement of individuals and how the model could address larger spatial scales and other probability models for mosquito behavior, such as Lévy distributions.
Mosquito-borne diseases can spread when a mosquito bites a vertebrate host to obtain a blood meal for egg-laying. The first step in the transmission process consists of the mosquitoes seeking and finding a host. Mosquitoes use the wind direction and odors, such as carbon dioxide, emitted by the hosts in order to locate a host to bite. We present a spatial computational model of the host-seeking process in a region where hosts are heterogeneously distributed in clusters. The model is used to analyze the success in finding hosts once the mosquitoes are close to the host. We show that the number of mosquito-host contacts increases as hosts become more widely spaced within their clusters; that mosquito flight perpendicular to the wind leads to greater success in locating a host; and that the number of bites per host decreases when hosts aggregate into larger clusters.
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.
Odor-mediated insect navigation in airborne chemical plumes is vital to many ecological interactions, including mate finding, flower nectaring, and host locating (where disease transmission or herbivory may begin). After emission, volatile chemicals become rapidly mixed and diluted through physical processes that create a dynamic olfactory environment. This review examines those physical processes and some of the analytical technologies available to characterize those behavior-inducing chemical signals at temporal scales equivalent to the olfactory processing in insects. In particular, we focus on two areas of research that together may further our understanding of olfactory signal dynamics and its processing and perception by insects. First, measurement of physical atmospheric processes in the field can provide insight into the spatiotemporal dynamics of the odor signal available to insects. Field measurements in turn permit aspects of the physical environment to be simulated in the laboratory, thereby allowing careful investigation into the links between odor signal dynamics and insect behavior. Second, emerging analytical technologies with high recording frequencies and field-friendly inlet systems may offer new opportunities to characterize natural odors at spatiotemporal scales relevant to insect perception and behavior. Characterization of the chemical signal environment allows the determination of when and where olfactory-mediated behaviors may control ecological interactions. Finally, we argue that coupling of these two research areas will foster increased understanding of the physicochemical environment and enable researchers to determine how olfactory environments shape insect behaviors and sensory systems.
Odor plume; Insect behavior; Odor-plume tracking; PTRMS; Mass spectrometry; Gas chromatography; Odor landscape
Insects respond to the spatial and temporal dynamics of a pheromone plume, which implies not only a strong response to 'odor on', but also to 'odor off'. This requires mechanisms geared toward a fast signal termination. Several mechanisms may contribute to signal termination, among which odorant-degrading enzymes. These enzymes putatively play a role in signal dynamics by a rapid inactivation of odorants in the vicinity of the sensory receptors, although direct in vivo experimental evidences are lacking. Here we verified the role of an extracellular carboxylesterase, esterase-6 (Est-6), in the sensory physiological and behavioral dynamics of Drosophila melanogaster response to its pheromone, cis-vaccenyl acetate (cVA). Est-6 was previously linked to post-mating effects in the reproductive system of females. As Est-6 is also known to hydrolyze cVA in vitro and is expressed in the main olfactory organ, the antenna, we tested here its role in olfaction as a putative odorant-degrading enzyme.
We first confirm that Est-6 is highly expressed in olfactory sensilla, including cVA-sensitive sensilla, and we show that expression is likely associated with non-neuronal cells. Our electrophysiological approaches show that the dynamics of olfactory receptor neuron (ORN) responses is strongly influenced by Est-6, as in Est-6° null mutants (lacking the Est-6 gene) cVA-sensitive ORN showed increased firing rate and prolonged activity in response to cVA. Est-6° mutant males had a lower threshold of behavioral response to cVA, as revealed by the analysis of two cVA-induced behaviors. In particular, mutant males exhibited a strong decrease of male-male courtship, in association with a delay in courtship initiation.
Our study presents evidence that Est-6 plays a role in the physiological and behavioral dynamics of sex pheromone response in Drosophila males and supports a role of Est-6 as an odorant-degrading enzyme (ODE) in male antennae. Our results also expand the role of Est-6 in Drosophila biology, from reproduction to olfaction, and highlight the role of ODEs in insect olfaction.
carboxylesterase; esterase 6; olfaction; pheromone; signal termination
The spatial and temporal characteristics of the visual and acoustic sensory input are indispensable attributes for animals to perform scene analysis. In contrast, research in olfaction has focused almost exclusively on how the nervous system analyzes the quality and quantity of the sensory signal and largely ignored the spatiotemporal dimension especially in longer time scales. Yet, detailed analyses of the turbulent, intermittent structure of water- and air-borne odor plumes strongly suggest that spatio-temporal information in longer time scales can provide major cues for olfactory scene analysis for animals. We show that a bursting subset of primary olfactory receptor neurons (bORNs) in lobster has the unexpected capacity to encode the temporal properties of intermittent odor signals. Each bORN is tuned to a specific range of stimulus intervals, and collectively bORNs can instantaneously encode a wide spectrum of intermittencies. Our theory argues for the existence of a novel peripheral mechanism for encoding the temporal pattern of odor that potentially serves as a neural substrate for olfactory scene analysis.
bursting olfactory receptor neuron; interval estimation; neural coding; olfactory scene analysis; point process; uncoupled oscillators
Flying insects use visual cues to stabilize their heading in a wind stream. Many animals additionally track odors carried in the wind. As such, visual stabilization of upwind tracking directly aids in odor tracking. But do olfactory signals directly influence visual tracking behavior independently from wind cues? Additionally, recent advances in olfactory molecular genetics and neurophysiology have motivated novel quantitative behavioral analyses to assess the behavioral influence of (e.g.) genetically inactivating specific olfactory activation circuits. We modified a magnetic tether system originally devised for vision experiments by equipping the arena with narrow laminar flow odor plumes. Here we focus on experiments that can be performed after a fly is tethered and is able to navigate in the magnetic arena. We show how to acquire video images optimized for measuring body angle, how to judge stable odor tracking, and we illustrate two experiments to examine the influence of visual cues on odor tracking.
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
The behavior of reef fish larvae, equipped with a complex toolbox of sensory apparatus, has become a central issue in understanding their transport in the ocean. In this study pelagic reef fish larvae were monitored using an unmanned open-ocean tracking device, the drifting in-situ chamber (DISC), deployed sequentially in oceanic waters and in reef-born odor plumes propagating offshore with the ebb flow. A total of 83 larvae of two taxonomic groups of the families Pomacentridae and Apogonidae were observed in the two water masses around One Tree Island, southern Great Barrier Reef. The study provides the first in-situ evidence that pelagic reef fish larvae discriminate reef odor and respond by changing their swimming speed and direction. It concludes that reef fish larvae smell the presence of coral reefs from several kilometers offshore and this odor is a primary component of their navigational system and activates other directional sensory cues. The two families expressed differences in their response that could be adapted to maintain a position close to the reef. In particular, damselfish larvae embedded in the odor plume detected the location of the reef crest and swam westward and parallel to shore on both sides of the island. This study underlines the critical importance of in situ Lagrangian observations to provide unique information on larval fish behavioral decisions. From an ecological perspective the central role of olfactory signals in marine population connectivity raises concerns about the effects of pollution and acidification of oceans, which can alter chemical cues and olfactory responses.
The concept of coding efficiency holds that sensory neurons are adapted, through both evolutionary and developmental processes, to the statistical characteristics of their natural stimulus. Encouraged by the successful invocation of this principle to predict how neurons encode natural auditory and visual stimuli, we attempted its application to olfactory neurons. The pheromone receptor neuron of the male moth Antheraea polyphemus, for which quantitative properties of both the natural stimulus and the reception processes are available, was selected. We predicted several characteristics that the pheromone plume should possess under the hypothesis that the receptors perform optimally, i.e., transfer as much information on the stimulus per unit time as possible. Our results demonstrate that the statistical characteristics of the predicted stimulus, e.g., the probability distribution function of the stimulus concentration, the spectral density function of the stimulation course, and the intermittency, are in good agreement with those measured experimentally in the field. These results should stimulate further quantitative studies on the evolutionary adaptation of olfactory nervous systems to odorant plumes and on the plume characteristics that are most informative for the ‘sniffer’. Both aspects are relevant to the design of olfactory sensors for odour-tracking robots.
Efficient coding is an overarching principle, well tested in visual and auditory neurobiology, which states that sensory neurons are adapted to the statistical characteristics of their natural stimulus - in brief, neurons best process those stimuli that occur most frequently. To assess its validity in olfaction, we examine the pheromone communication of moths, in which males locate their female mates by the pheromone they release. We determine the characteristics of the pheromone plume which are best detected by the male reception system. We show that they are in agreement with plume measurements in the field, so providing quantitative evidence that this system also obeys the efficient coding principle. Exploring the quantitative relationship between the properties of biological sensory systems and their natural environment should lead not only to a better understanding of neural functions and evolutionary processes, but also to improvements in the design of artificial sensory systems.
Multimodal integration allows neural circuits to be activated in a behaviorally context-specific manner. In the case of odor plume tracking by Drosophila, an attractive odorant increases the influence of yaw-optic flow on steering behavior in flight, which enhances visual stability reflexes, resulting in straighter flight trajectories within an odor plume. However, it is not well understood whether context-specific changes in optomotor behavior are the result of an increased sensitivity to motion inputs (e.g., through increased visual attention) or direct scaling of motor outputs (i.e., increased steering gain). We address this question by examining the optomotor behavior of Drosophila melanogaster in a tethered flight assay and demonstrate that whereas olfactory cues decrease the gain of the optomotor response to sideslip optic flow, they concomitantly increase the gain of the yaw optomotor response by enhancing the animal's ability to follow transient visual perturbations. Furthermore, ablating the mushroom bodies (MBs) of the fly brain via larval hydroxyurea (HU) treatment results in a loss of olfaction-dependent increase in yaw optomotor fidelity. By expressing either tetanus toxin light chain or diphtheria toxin in gal4-defined neural circuits, we were able to replicate the loss of function observed in the HU treatment within the lines expressing broadly in the mushroom bodies, but not within specific mushroom body lobes. Finally, we were able to genetically separate the yaw responses and sideslip responses in our behavioral assay. Together, our results implicate the MBs in a fast-acting, memory-independent olfactory modification of a visual reflex that is critical for flight control.
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.
We identified the neurons comprising the Drosophila mushroom body (MB), an associative center in invertebrate brains, and provide a comprehensive map describing their potential connections. Each of the 21 MB output neuron (MBON) types elaborates segregated dendritic arbors along the parallel axons of ∼2000 Kenyon cells, forming 15 compartments that collectively tile the MB lobes. MBON axons project to five discrete neuropils outside of the MB and three MBON types form a feedforward network in the lobes. Each of the 20 dopaminergic neuron (DAN) types projects axons to one, or at most two, of the MBON compartments. Convergence of DAN axons on compartmentalized Kenyon cell–MBON synapses creates a highly ordered unit that can support learning to impose valence on sensory representations. The elucidation of the complement of neurons of the MB provides a comprehensive anatomical substrate from which one can infer a functional logic of associative olfactory learning and memory.
One of the key goals of neuroscience is to understand how specific circuits of brain cells enable animals to respond optimally to the constantly changing world around them. Such processes are more easily studied in simpler brains, and the fruit fly—with its small size, short life cycle, and well-developed genetic toolkit—is widely used to study the genes and circuits that underlie learning and behavior.
Fruit flies can learn to approach odors that have previously been paired with food, and also to avoid any odors that have been paired with an electric shock, and a part of the brain called the mushroom body has a central role in this process. When odorant molecules bind to receptors on the fly's antennae, they activate neurons in the antennal lobe of the brain, which in turn activate cells called Kenyon cells within the mushroom body. The Kenyon cells then activate output neurons that convey signals to other parts of the brain.
It is known that relatively few Kenyon cells are activated by any given odor. Moreover, it seems that a given odor activates different sets of Kenyon cells in different flies. Because the association between an odor and the Kenyon cells it activates is unique to each fly, each fly needs to learn through its own experiences what a particular pattern of Kenyon cell activation means.
Aso et al. have now applied sophisticated molecular genetic and anatomical techniques to thousands of different transgenic flies to identify the neurons of the mushroom body. The resulting map reveals that the mushroom body contains roughly 2200 neurons, including seven types of Kenyon cells and 21 types of output cells, as well as 20 types of neurons that use the neurotransmitter dopamine. Moreover, this map provides insights into the circuits that support odor-based learning. It reveals, for example, that the mushroom body can be divided into 15 anatomical compartments that are each defined by the presence of a specific set of output and dopaminergic neuron cell types. Since the dopaminergic neurons help to shape a fly's response to odors on the basis of previous experience, this organization suggests that these compartments may be semi-autonomous information processing units.
In contrast to the rest of the insect brain, the mushroom body has a flexible organization that is similar to that of the mammalian brain. Elucidating the circuits that support associative learning in fruit flies should therefore make it easier to identify the equivalent mechanisms in vertebrate animals.
mushroom body; olfactory learning; associative memory; neuronal circuits; dopamine; plasticity; D. melanogaster
Calling female moths attract their mates late at night with intermittent release of a species-specific sex-pheromone blend. Mean frequency of pheromone filaments encodes distance to the calling female. In their zig-zagging upwind search male moths encounter turbulent pheromone blend filaments at highly variable concentrations and frequencies. The male moth antennae are delicately designed to detect and distinguish even traces of these sex pheromones amongst the abundance of other odors. Its olfactory receptor neurons sense even single pheromone molecules and track intermittent pheromone filaments of highly variable frequencies up to about 30 Hz over a wide concentration range. In the hawkmoth Manduca sexta brief, weak pheromone stimuli as encountered during flight are detected via a metabotropic PLCβ-dependent signal transduction cascade which leads to transient changes in intracellular Ca2+ concentrations. Strong or long pheromone stimuli, which are possibly perceived in direct contact with the female, activate receptor-guanylyl cyclases causing long-term adaptation. In addition, depending on endogenous rhythms of the moth's physiological state, hormones such as the stress hormone octopamine modulate second messenger levels in sensory neurons. High octopamine levels during the activity phase maximize temporal resolution cAMP-dependently as a prerequisite to mate location. Thus, I suggest that sliding adjustment of odor response threshold and kinetics is based upon relative concentration ratios of intracellular Ca2+ and cyclic nucleotide levels which gate different ion channels synergistically. In addition, I propose a new hypothesis for the cyclic nucleotide-dependent ion channel formed by insect olfactory receptor/coreceptor complexes. Instead of being employed for an ionotropic mechanism of odor detection it is proposed to control subthreshold membrane potential oscillation of sensory neurons, as a basis for temporal encoding of odors.
insect olfaction; second messengers; octopamine; circadian rhythms; signal transduction cascades; field potentials; subthreshold membrane potential oscillations; temporal encoding
Olfactory sensory neurons connect to the antennal lobe of the fly to create the primary units for processing odor cues, the glomeruli. Unique amongst antennal-lobe neurons is an identified wide-field serotonergic neuron, the contralaterally-projecting, serotonin-immunoreactive deutocerebral neuron (CSDn). The CSDn spreads its termini all over the contralateral antennal lobe, suggesting a diffuse neuromodulatory role. A closer examination, however, reveals a restricted pattern of the CSDn arborization in some glomeruli. We show that sensory neuron-derived Eph interacts with Ephrin in the CSDn, to regulate these arborizations. Behavioural analysis of animals with altered Eph-ephrin signaling and with consequent arborization defects suggests that neuromodulation requires local glomerular-specific patterning of the CSDn termini. Our results show the importance of developmental regulation of terminal arborization of even the diffuse modulatory neurons to allow them to route sensory-inputs according to the behavioural contexts.
Serotonin, a major neuromodulatory transmitter, regulates diverse behaviours. Serotonergic dysfunction is implicated in various neuropsychological disorders, such as anxiety and depression, as well as in neurodegenerative disorders. In the central nervous systems, across taxa, serotonergic neurons are often small in number but connect to and act upon multiple brain circuits through their wide-field arborization pattern. We set out to decipher mechanisms by which wide-field serotonergic neurons differentially innervate their target-field to modulate behavior in a context-dependent manner. We took advantage of the sophisticated antennal lobe circuitry, the primary olfactory centre in the adult fruitfly Drosophila melanogaster. Olfactory sensory neurons and projection neurons connect in a partner-specific manner to create glomerular units in the antennal lobe for processing the sense of smell. Our analysis at a single-cell resolution reveals that a wide-field serotonergic neuron connects to all the glomeruli in the antennal lobe but exhibits the glomerular-specific differences in its innervation pattern. Our key finding is that Eph from sensory neurons regulates the glomerular-specific innervation pattern of the central serotonergic neuron, which in turn is essential for modulation of odor-guided behaviours in an odor-specific manner.
Each down stroke of an insect's wings accelerates axial airflow over the antennae. Modeling studies suggest that this can greatly enhance penetration of air and air-born odorants through the antennal sensilla thereby periodically increasing odorant-receptor interactions. Do these periodic changes result in entrainment of neural responses in the antenna and antennal lobe (AL)? Does this entrainment affect olfactory acuity? To address these questions, we monitored antennal and AL responses in the moth Manduca sexta while odorants were pulsed at frequencies from 10–72 Hz, encompassing the natural wingbeat frequency. Power spectral density (PSD) analysis was used to identify entrainment of neural activity. Statistical analysis of PSDs indicates that the antennal nerve tracked pulsed odor up to 30 Hz. Furthermore, at least 50% of AL local field potentials (LFPs) and between 7–25% of unitary spiking responses also tracked pulsed odor up to 30 Hz in a frequency-locked manner. Application of bicuculline (200 μM) abolished pulse tracking in both LFP and unitary responses suggesting that GABAA receptor activation is necessary for pulse tracking within the AL. Finally, psychophysical measures of odor detection establish that detection thresholds are lowered when odor is pulsed at 20 Hz. These results suggest that AL networks can respond to the oscillatory dynamics of stimuli such as those imposed by the wing beat in a manner analogous to mammalian sniffing.
olfaction; oscillations; synchrony; GABA; antennal lobe; olfactory bulb; sniffing; sensory sampling
Carbon dioxide (CO2) elicits an attractive host-seeking response from mosquitos [1–3] yet is innately aversive to Drosophila melanogaster [4, 5] despite being a plentiful byproduct of attractive fermenting food sources. Prior studies used walking flies exclusively, yet adults track distant food sources on the wing . Here we show that a fly tethered within a magnetic field allowing free rotation about the yaw axis  actively seeks a narrow CO2 plume during flight. Genetic disruption of the canonical CO2-sensing olfactory neurons does not alter in-flight attraction to CO2; however, antennal ablation and genetic disruption of the Ir64a acid sensor do. Surprisingly, mutation of the obligate olfactory coreceptor (Orco ) does not abolish CO2 aversion during walking  yet eliminates CO2 tracking in flight. The biogenic amine octopamine regulates critical physiological processes during flight [9–11], and blocking synaptic output from octopamine neurons inverts the valence assigned to CO2 and elicits an aversive response in flight. Combined, our results suggest that a novel Orco-mediated olfactory pathway that gains sensitivity to CO2 in flight via changes in octopamine levels, along with Ir64a, quickly switches the valence of a key environmental stimulus in a behavioral-state-dependent manner.
Engineered tracking systems ‘fuse’ data from disparate sensor platforms, such as radar and video, to synthesize information that is more reliable than any single input. The mammalian brain registers visual and auditory inputs to directionally localize an interesting environmental feature. For a fly, sensory perception is challenged by the extreme performance demands of high speed flight. Yet even a fruit fly can robustly track a fragmented odor plume through varying visual environments, outperforming any human engineered robot. Flies integrate disparate modalities, such as vision and olfaction, which are neither related by spatiotemporal spectra nor processed by registered neural tissue maps. Thus, the fly is motivating new conceptual frameworks for how low-level multisensory circuits and functional algorithms produce high-performance motor control.
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.