High Precision of Spike Timing across Olfactory Receptor Neurons Allows Rapid Odor Coding in Drosophila.
ABSTRACT: In recent years, it has become evident that olfaction is a fast sense, and millisecond short differences in stimulus onsets are used by animals to analyze their olfactory environment. In contrast, olfactory receptor neurons are thought to be relatively slow and temporally imprecise. These observations have led to a conundrum: how, then, can an animal resolve fast stimulus dynamics and smell with high temporal acuity? Using parallel recordings from olfactory receptor neurons in Drosophila, we found hitherto unknown fast and temporally precise odorant-evoked spike responses, with first spike latencies (relative to odorant arrival) down to 3 ms and with a SD below 1 ms. These data provide new upper bounds for the speed of olfactory processing and suggest that the insect olfactory system could use the precise spike timing for olfactory coding and computation, which can explain insects' rapid processing of temporal stimuli when encountering turbulent odor plumes.
Project description: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.
Project description:Animals can form associations between temporally separated stimuli. To do so, the nervous system has to retain a neural representation of the first stimulus until the second stimulus appears. The neural substrate of such sensory stimulus memories is unknown. Here, we search for a sensory odor memory in the insect olfactory system and characterize odorant-evoked Ca2+ activity at three consecutive layers of the olfactory system in Drosophila: in olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs) and projection neurons (PNs) in the antennal lobe, and in Kenyon cells (KCs) in the mushroom body. We show that the post-stimulus responses in ORN axons, PN dendrites, PN somata, and KC dendrites are odor-specific, but they are not predictive of the chemical identity of past olfactory stimuli. However, the post-stimulus responses in KC somata carry information about the identity of previous olfactory stimuli. These findings show that the Ca2+ dynamics in KC somata could encode a sensory memory of odorant identity and thus might serve as a basis for associations between temporally separated stimuli.
Project description:The properties of cortical circuits underlying central representations of sensory stimuli are poorly understood. Here we use in vivo cell-attached and whole-cell voltage-clamp recordings to reveal how excitatory and inhibitory synaptic input govern odor representations in rat primary olfactory (piriform) cortex. We show that odors evoke spiking activity that is sparse across the cortical population. We find that unbalanced synaptic excitation and inhibition underlie sparse activity: inhibition is widespread and broadly tuned, while excitation is less common and odor-specific. "Global" inhibition can be explained by local interneurons that receive ubiquitous and nonselective odor-evoked excitation. In the temporal domain, while respiration imposes a slow rhythm to olfactory cortical responses, odors evoke fast (15-30 Hz) oscillations in synaptic activity. Oscillatory excitation precedes inhibition, generating brief time windows for precise and temporally sparse spike output. Together, our results reveal that global inhibition and oscillations are major synaptic mechanisms shaping odor representations in olfactory cortex.
Project description:Odorants of behaviorally relevant objects (e.g., food sources) intermingle with those from other sources. Therefore to determine whether an odor source is good or bad-without actually visiting it-animals first need to segregate the odorants from different sources. To do so, animals could use temporal stimulus cues, because odorants from one source exhibit correlated fluctuations, whereas odorants from different sources are less correlated. However, the behaviorally relevant timescales of temporal stimulus cues for odor source segregation remain unclear. Using behavioral experiments with free-flying flies, we show that (1) odorant onset asynchrony increases flies' attraction to a mixture of two odorants with opposing innate or learned valence and (2) attraction does not increase when the attractive odorant arrives first. These data suggest that flies can use stimulus onset asynchrony for odor source segregation and imply temporally precise neural mechanisms for encoding odors and for segregating them into distinct objects.
Project description:While sensory neurons carry behaviorally relevant information in responses that often extend over hundreds of milliseconds, the key units of neural information likely consist of much shorter and temporally precise spike patterns. The mechanisms and temporal reference frames by which sensory networks partition responses into these shorter units of information remain unknown. One hypothesis holds that slow oscillations provide a network-intrinsic reference to temporally partitioned spike trains without exploiting the millisecond-precise alignment of spikes to sensory stimuli. We tested this hypothesis on neural responses recorded in visual and auditory cortices of macaque monkeys in response to natural stimuli. Comparing different schemes for response partitioning revealed that theta band oscillations provide a temporal reference that permits extracting significantly more information than can be obtained from spike counts, and sometimes almost as much information as obtained by partitioning spike trains using precisely stimulus-locked time bins. We further tested the robustness of these partitioning schemes to temporal uncertainty in the decoding process and to noise in the sensory input. This revealed that partitioning using an oscillatory reference provides greater robustness than partitioning using precisely stimulus-locked time bins. Overall, these results provide a computational proof of concept for the hypothesis that slow rhythmic network activity may serve as internal reference frame for information coding in sensory cortices and they foster the notion that slow oscillations serve as key elements for the computations underlying perception.
Project description:Due to the highly efficient olfactory code, olfactory sensory systems are able to reliably encode enormous numbers of olfactory stimuli. The olfactory code consists of combinatorial activation patterns across sensory neurons, thus its capacity exceeds the number of involved classes of sensory neurons by a manifold. Activation patterns are not static but vary over time, caused by the temporally complex response dynamics of the individual sensory neuron responses. We systematically analyzed the temporal dynamics of olfactory sensory neuron responses to a diverse set of odorants. We find that response dynamics depend on the combination of sensory neuron and odorant and that information about odorant identity can be extracted from the time course of the response. We also show that new response dynamics can arise when mixing two odorants. Our data show that temporal dynamics of odorant responses are able to significantly enhance the coding capacity of olfactory sensory systems.
Project description:Sensory systems encode both the static quality of a stimulus (e.g., color or shape) and its kinetics (e.g., speed and direction). The limits with which stimulus kinetics can be resolved are well understood in vision, audition, and somatosensation. However, the maximum temporal resolution of olfactory systems has not been accurately determined. Here, we probe the limits of temporal resolution in insect olfaction by delivering high frequency odor pulses and measuring sensory responses in the antennae. We show that transduction times and pulse tracking capabilities of olfactory receptor neurons are faster than previously reported. Once an odorant arrives at the boundary layer of the antenna, odor transduction can occur within less than 2 ms and fluctuating odor stimuli can be resolved at frequencies more than 100 Hz. Thus, insect olfactory receptor neurons can track stimuli of very short duration, as occur when their antennae encounter narrow filaments in an odor plume. These results provide a new upper bound to the kinetics of odor tracking in insect olfactory receptor neurons and to the latency of initial transduction events in olfaction.
Project description:Visual, auditory, somatosensory, and olfactory stimuli generate temporally precise patterns of action potentials (spikes). It is unclear, however, how the precision of spike generation relates to the pattern and variability of synaptic input elicited by physiological stimuli. We determined how synaptic conductances evoked by light stimuli that activate the rod bipolar pathway control spike generation in three identified types of mouse retinal ganglion cells (RGCs). The relative amplitude, timing, and impact of excitatory and inhibitory input differed dramatically between On and Off RGCs. Spikes evoked by repeated somatic injection of identical light-evoked synaptic conductances were more temporally precise than those evoked by light. However, the precision of spikes evoked by conductances that varied from trial to trial was similar to that of light-evoked spikes. Thus, the rod bipolar pathway modulates different RGCs via unique combinations of synaptic input, and RGC temporal variability reflects variability in the input this circuit provides.
Project description:One of the major challenges in olfaction research is to relate the structural features of the odorants to different features of olfactory system. However, no relationship has been yet discovered between the structure of the olfactory stimulus, and the structure of respiratory signal. This study reveals the plasticity of human respiratory signal in relation to 'complex' olfactory stimulus (odorant). We demonstrated that fractal temporal structure of respiration dynamics shifts towards the properties of the odorants used. The results show for the first time that more structurally complex a monomolecular odorant will result in less fractal respiratory signal. On the other hand, odorant with higher entropy will result the respiratory signal with lower entropy. The capability observed in this research can be further investigated and applied for treatment of patients with different respiratory diseases.
Project description:Over the past two decades, substantial amount of work has been conducted to characterize different odorant receptors, neuroanatomy and odorant response properties of the early olfactory system of Drosophila melanogaster. Yet many odorant receptors remain only partially characterized, and the odorant transduction process and the axon hillock spiking mechanism of the olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) have yet to be fully determined. Identity and concentration, two key characteristics of the space of odorants, are encoded by the odorant transduction process. Detailed molecular models of the odorant transduction process are, however, scarce for fruit flies. To address these challenges we advance a comprehensive model of fruit fly OSNs as a cascade consisting of an odorant transduction process (OTP) and a biophysical spike generator (BSG). We model odorant identity and concentration using an odorant-receptor binding rate tensor, modulated by the odorant concentration profile, and an odorant-receptor dissociation rate tensor, and quantitatively describe the mechanics of the molecular ligand binding/dissociation of the OTP. We model the BSG as a Connor-Stevens point neuron. The resulting spatio-temporal encoding model of the Drosophila antenna provides a theoretical foundation for understanding the neural code of both odorant identity and odorant concentration and advances the state-of-the-art in a number of ways. First, it quantifies on the molecular level the spatio-temporal level of complexity of the transformation taking place in the antennae. The concentration-dependent spatio-temporal code at the output of the antenna circuits determines the level of complexity of olfactory processing in the downstream neuropils, such as odorant recognition and olfactory associative learning. Second, the model is biologically validated using multiple electrophysiological recordings. Third, the model demonstrates that the currently available data for odorant-receptor responses only enable the estimation of the affinity of the odorant-receptor pairs. The odorant-dissociation rate is only available for a few odorant-receptor pairs. Finally, our model calls for new experiments for massively identifying the odorant-receptor dissociation rates of relevance to flies.