Information processing in the olfactory systems of insects and vertebrates

Semin Cell Dev Biol. 2006 Aug;17(4):433-42. doi: 10.1016/j.semcdb.2006.04.012.


Insects and vertebrates separately evolved remarkably similar mechanisms to process olfactory information. Odors are sampled by huge numbers of receptor neurons, which converge type-wise upon a much smaller number of principal neurons within glomeruli. There, odor information is transformed by inhibitory interneuron-mediated, cross-glomerular circuit interactions that impose slow temporal structures and fast oscillations onto the firing patterns of principal neurons. The transformations appear to improve signal-to-noise characteristics, define odor categories, achieve precise odor identification, extract invariant features, and begin the process of sparsening the neural representations of odors for efficient discrimination, memorization, and recognition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Clocks
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials
  • Humans
  • Insecta / physiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Olfactory Bulb / anatomy & histology
  • Olfactory Bulb / cytology
  • Olfactory Pathways / physiology*
  • Receptors, Odorant / physiology
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*
  • Vertebrates / physiology*


  • Receptors, Odorant