Spatial coding of enantiomers in the rat olfactory bulb

Nat Neurosci. 2001 Apr;4(4):355-6. doi: 10.1038/85997.


Because of their unique properties, enantiomers (pairs of mirror-symmetric, nonsuperimposable molecules that differ only in optical activity and their interaction with other chiral molecules) have been instrumental in demonstrating that olfactory perception relies on molecular shape. To investigate how molecular structure is encoded by the olfactory system, we combined behavioral discrimination tasks with optical imaging of intrinsic signals. We found that rats can behaviorally discriminate members of a wide range of enantiomer pairs, and imaging revealed enantiomer-selective glomeruli in the olfactory bulb, indicating that the spatial pattern of glomerular activity provides sufficient information to discriminate molecular shape.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chemoreceptor Cells / chemistry
  • Chemoreceptor Cells / physiology*
  • Discrimination Learning
  • Humans
  • Odorants*
  • Olfactory Bulb / cytology
  • Olfactory Bulb / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Smell / physiology*
  • Stereoisomerism*