Coding of odor molecules by mitral/tufted cells in rabbit olfactory bulb. I. Aliphatic compounds

J Neurophysiol. 1992 Dec;68(6):1986-2002. doi: 10.1152/jn.1992.68.6.1986.


1. Recordings of extracellular spike responses were made from single mitral/tufted cells in the main olfactory bulb of urethan-anesthetized rabbits. Olfactory epithelium ipsilateral to the recorded olfactory bulb was stimulated with homologous series of aliphatic compounds using periodic artificial inhalations. 2. In the dorsomedial part of the main olfactory bulb, single mitral/tufted cells were activated by subsets of n-fatty acids with similar hydrocarbon chain lengths. Response selectivities of single mitral/tufted cells were examined in detail using a series of n-fatty acids at five different concentrations. The results indicate that although the range of effective fatty acids is broader at the higher concentrations, the best response at higher concentrations was similar to that determined at lower concentrations. 3. Analysis of single-unit responses to the panel of fatty acids, including those with branched hydrocarbon chains, suggested that the determinants for the response specificities of individual mitral/tufted cells in the dorsomedial region include the overall size of hydrocarbon chains of the odor ligand molecules. 4. Single mitral/tufted cells in the dorsomedial region tended to be activated not only by fatty acids but also by n-aliphatic aldehydes. For a panel of a homologous series of n-aldehydes at five different concentrations, individual mitral/tufted cells showed response selectivity to subsets of aldehydes with similar hydrocarbon chain lengths. 5. In most cases, normal aliphatic alcohols and alkanes were ineffective in activating mitral/tufted cells in the dorsomedial region. This suggests that carbonyl group (--C = O) in the odor molecules plays an important role in determining response specificity of these neurons. 6. Examination with an expanded panel of stimulus odor molecules that included ketones and esters indicated that single mitral/tufted cells sensitive to subsets of fatty acids and n-aliphatic aldehydes were also responsive to subsets of ketones and/or esters having hydrocarbon chain lengths similar to those of the effective fatty acids and aldehydes. 7. The present results show a clear correlation between the tuning specificity of individual mitral/tufted cells and the stereochemical structure of the odor molecules, with respect to 1) length and/or structure of hydrocarbon chain, 2) difference in functional group, and 3) position of the functional group within the molecule. 8. A hypothetical diagram suggesting functional convergence of olfactory nerve input to individual glomeruli is proposed to explain the mechanism for selective activation of individual mitral/tufted cells by a range of odor molecules with similar stereochemical structures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Carboxylic Acids / pharmacology
  • Esters / pharmacology
  • Fatty Acids / pharmacology
  • Hydrocarbons / pharmacology*
  • Ketones / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Odorants*
  • Olfactory Bulb / cytology
  • Olfactory Bulb / physiology*
  • Rabbits
  • Smell / physiology*


  • Carboxylic Acids
  • Esters
  • Fatty Acids
  • Hydrocarbons
  • Ketones