Maps of odorant molecular features in the Mammalian olfactory bulb

Physiol Rev. 2006 Apr;86(2):409-33. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00021.2005.


The olfactory bulb (OB) is the first relay station of the central olfactory system in the mammalian brain and contains a few thousand glomeruli on its surface. Because individual glomeruli represent a single odorant receptor, the glomerular sheet of the OB forms odorant receptor maps. This review summarizes the emerging view of the spatial organization of the odorant receptor maps. Recent studies suggest that individual odorant receptors are molecular-feature detecting units, and so are individual glomeruli in the OB. How are the molecular-feature detecting units spatially arranged in the glomerular sheet? To characterize the molecular-feature specificity of an individual glomerulus, it is necessary to determine the molecular receptive range (MRR) of the glomerulus and to compare the molecular structure of odorants within the MRR. Studies of the MRR mapping show that 1) individual glomeruli typically respond to a range of odorants that share a specific combination of molecular features, 2) each glomerulus appears to be unique in its MRR property, and 3) glomeruli with similar MRR properties gather together in proximity and form molecular-feature clusters. The molecular-feature clusters are located at stereotypical positions in the OB and might be part of the neural representation of basic odor quality. Detailed studies suggest that the glomerular sheet represents the characteristic molecular features in a systematic, gradual, and multidimensional fashion. The molecular-feature maps provide a basis for understanding how the olfactory cortex reads the odor maps of the OB.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Mammals / metabolism*
  • Odorants
  • Olfactory Bulb / cytology
  • Olfactory Bulb / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Odorant / metabolism*
  • Smell / physiology
  • Tissue Distribution


  • Receptors, Odorant