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Odor representation and discrimination in mitral/tufted cells of the rat olfactory bulb

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Extracellular single-unit responses to odorants with various properties were recorded from mitral/tufted cells over large areas of the olfactory bulb of anesthetized rats. Each cell was exposed to one stimulus set consisting of five different odorants each at five concentrations. The resulting concentration-response profiles were compared. All mitral/tufted cells examined responded to two or more odorants, and the largest proportion of the cells were sensitive to all five odorants. Cells unresponsive to all five odorants regardless of concentration were not observed. Mitral/tufted cells sensitive to all three of the odorants that are known to evoke maximal electro-olfactograms in different regions of the olfactory epithelium were distributed widely throughout the olfactory bulb. There were no significant differences in latencies of odor responses either across recording sites or across odorants. A comparison of the concentration-response profiles suggested that all of the mitral/tufted cells were equally capable of responding to any odorant with their own distinctive pattern, but that the cells tended to show an identical pattern rather than variable pattern of response to different odorants. Five mitral/tufted cells isolated within 800 μm of one electrode track showed different concentration-response profiles. Of 18 simultaneously recorded spike pairs with different amplitudes and discharge patterns recorded incidentally through one electrode at different sites, 10 had different and 8 had identical response patterns to odorants. These results suggest that: (1) mitral/tufted cells are sensitive to a broad spectrum of odorants, but respond with their own patterns to odorants; (2) odor discrimination is not uniform in neighboring cells, and a discrimination unit is comprised of a single cell.

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Motokizawa, F. Odor representation and discrimination in mitral/tufted cells of the rat olfactory bulb. Exp Brain Res 112, 24–34 (1996).

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Key words

  • Odor sensitivity and selectivity
  • Discrimination unit
  • Olfactory bulb
  • Unit activity
  • Olfactometry
  • Rat