Much data on the olfactory bulb (OB) indicates that structural characteristics of odorant molecules are encoded as ordered, spatially consolidated sets of active cells. New results with "genetic tracing" (Zou et al.  Nature 414:173-179) suggest that spatial order is also present in projections from the OB to the olfactory cortex. For the piriform cortex (PC), results with this technique indicate that afferents conveying input derived from single olfactory receptors (ORs) are distributed to well-defined patches in the anterior PC (APC) but that these patches are much larger than in the OB. We have used c-fos induction to examine how input patterning for single ORs is translated into patterns of odor-evoked cellular activity in the PC. The laminar distribution of labeled cells and dual-immunostaining for gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)ergic markers indicated that activity was detected largely in pyramidal cells. In odor-stimulated rats, labeled cells were present throughout the posterior PC (PPC) but were concentrated in prominent rostrocaudal bands in APC. Analysis of responses to different odorants and concentrations revealed that locations and shapes of bands conveyed no apparent information regarding odor quality, rather, they appeared to correspond to subregions of the APC distinguished by cytoarchitecture and connectivity. Small-scale variations in labeling density were observed within APC bands and throughout the PPC that could reflect the presence of a complex topographical order, but discrete patches at consistent locations as observed by genetic tracing were absent. This finding suggests that as a result of afferent overlap and intracortical processing, odor-quality information is represented by spatially distributed sets of cells. A distributed organization may be optimal for discriminating biologically relevant odorants that activate large numbers of ORs.
Copyright 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.