Sniffing behavior of mice during performance in odor-guided tasks

Chem Senses. 2008 Sep;33(7):581-96. doi: 10.1093/chemse/bjn029. Epub 2008 Jun 5.


Sniffing, a rhythmic inhalation and exhalation of air through the nose, is a behavior thought to play a critical role in shaping how odor information is represented and processed by the nervous system. Although the mouse has become a prominent model for studying olfaction, little is known about sniffing behavior in mice. Here, we characterized mouse sniffing behavior by measuring intranasal pressure transients in behaving mice. Sniffing was monitored during unstructured exploratory behavior and during performance of 3 commonly used olfactory paradigms: a habituation/dishabituation task, a sand digging-based discrimination task, and a nose poke-based discrimination task. We found that respiration frequencies in quiescent mice ranged from 3 to 5 Hz--higher than that reported for rats. During exploration, sniff frequency increased up to approximately 12 Hz and was highly dynamic, with rapid changes in frequency, amplitude, and waveform. Sniffing behavior varied strongly between tasks as well as for different behavioral epochs of each task. For example, mice performing the digging-based task showed little increase in sniff frequency prior to digging, whereas mice performing a nose poke-based task showed robust increases. Mice showed large increases in sniff frequency prior to reward delivery in all tasks. Mice also showed increases in sniff frequency when nose poking in a nonodor-guided task. These results show that mouse sniffing behavior is highly dynamic, varies with behavioral context, and is strongly modulated by olfactory as well as nonolfactory events.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Choice Behavior / physiology
  • Discrimination, Psychological
  • Habituation, Psychophysiologic
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Models, Biological
  • Odorants*
  • Olfactory Pathways / physiology
  • Respiration
  • Smell / physiology*