The Francis Crick Institute
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Sniffing fast: Paradoxical effects on odor concentration discrimination at the levels of olfactory bulb output and behavior

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journal contribution
posted on 2020-08-20, 16:20 authored by Rebecca Jordan, Mihaly Kollo, Andreas T Schaefer
In awake mice, sniffing behavior is subject to complex contextual modulation. It has been hypothesized that variance in inhalation dynamics alters odor concentration profiles in the naris despite a constant environmental concentration. Using whole-cell recordings in the olfactory bulb of awake mice, we directly demonstrate that rapid sniffing mimics the effect of odor concentration increase at the level of both mitral and tufted cell (MTC) firing rate responses and temporal responses. Paradoxically, we find that mice are capable of discriminating fine concentration differences within short timescales despite highly variable sniffing behavior. One way that the olfactory system could differentiate between a change in sniffing and a change in concentration would be to receive information about the inhalation parameters in parallel with information about the odor. We find that the sniff-driven activity of MTCs without odor input is informative of the kind of inhalation that just occurred, allowing rapid detection of a change in inhalation. Thus, a possible reason for sniff modulation of the early olfactory system may be to directly inform downstream centers of nasal flow dynamics, so that an inference can be made about environmental concentration independent of sniff variance.