Spatiotemporal representations in the olfactory system

Trends Neurosci. 2007 Mar;30(3):92-100. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2007.01.001. Epub 2007 Jan 16.


A complete understanding of the mechanisms underlying any kind of sensory, motor or cognitive task requires analysis from the systems to the cellular level. In olfaction, new behavioural evidence in rodents has provided temporal limits on neural processing times that correspond to less than 150ms--the timescale of a single sniff. Recent in vivo data from the olfactory bulb indicate that, within each sniff, odour representation is not only spatially organized, but also temporally structured by odour-specific patterns of onset latencies. Thus, we propose that the spatial representation of odour is not a static one, but rather evolves across a sniff, whereby for difficult discriminations of similar odours, it is necessary for the olfactory system to "wait" for later-activated components. Based on such evidence, we have devised a working model to assess further the relevance of such spatiotemporal processes in odour representation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological
  • Olfactory Pathways / physiology*
  • Olfactory Receptor Neurons / physiology*
  • Orientation / physiology
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Smell / physiology*
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Time Factors
  • Time Perception / physiology*