Dynamical mechanisms of odor processing in olfactory bulb mitral cells

J Neurophysiol. 2006 Aug;96(2):555-68. doi: 10.1152/jn.00264.2006. Epub 2006 May 17.


In the olfactory system, the contribution of dynamical properties such as neuronal oscillations and spike synchronization to the representation of odor stimuli is a matter of substantial debate. While relatively simple computational models have sufficed to guide current research in large-scale network dynamics, less attention has been paid to modeling the membrane dynamics in bulbar neurons that may be equally essential to sensory processing. We here present a reduced, conductance-based compartmental model of olfactory bulb mitral cells that exhibits the complex dynamical properties observed in these neurons. Specifically, model neurons exhibit intrinsic subthreshold oscillations with voltage-dependent frequencies that shape the timing of stimulus-evoked action potentials. These oscillations rely on a persistent sodium conductance, an inactivating potassium conductance, and a calcium-dependent potassium conductance and are reset via inhibitory input such as that delivered by periglomerular cell shunt inhibition. Mitral cells fire bursts, or clusters, of spikes when continuously stimulated. Burst properties depend critically on multiple currents, but a progressive deinactivation of I(A) over the course of a burst is an important regulator of burst termination. Each of these complex properties exhibits appropriate dynamics and pharmacology as determined by electrophysiological studies. Additionally, we propose that a second, inconsistently observed form of infrathreshold bistability in mitral cells may derive from the activation of ATP-activated potassium currents responding to hypoxic conditions. We discuss the integration of these cellular properties in the larger context of olfactory bulb network operations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Biophysical Phenomena
  • Biophysics
  • Cell Membrane / physiology
  • Computer Simulation
  • Dendrites / physiology
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials / physiology
  • Hypoxia / physiopathology
  • KATP Channels
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Olfactory Bulb / cytology*
  • Olfactory Bulb / physiology*
  • Olfactory Pathways / cytology
  • Olfactory Pathways / physiology
  • Potassium Channels, Inwardly Rectifying / physiology
  • Smell / physiology*


  • KATP Channels
  • Potassium Channels, Inwardly Rectifying
  • uK-ATP-1 potassium channel