Sensory discrimination requires distributed arrays of processing units. In the olfactory bulb, the processing units for odor discrimination are believed to involve dendrodendritic synaptic interactions between mitral and granule cells. There is increasing anatomical evidence that these cells are organized in columns, and that the columns processing a given odor are arranged in widely distributed arrays. Experimental evidence is lacking on the underlying learning mechanisms for how these columns and arrays are formed. To gain insight into these mechanisms, we have used a simplified realistic circuit model to test the hypothesis that distributed connectivity can self-organize through an activity-dependent dendrodendritic synaptic mechanism. The results point to action potentials propagating in the mitral cell lateral dendrites as playing a critical role in this mechanism. The model predicts that columns emerge from the interaction between the local temporal dynamics of the action potentials and the synapses that they activate during dendritic propagation. The results suggest a novel and robust learning mechanism for the development of distributed processing units in a cortical structure.
Keywords: active dendrites; dendrodendritic synapses; non-Hebbian learning; olfactory bulb; olfactory glomeruli; olfactory maps.