Associative cortex features in the first olfactory brain relay station

Neuron. 2011 Mar 24;69(6):1176-87. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2011.02.024.


Synchronized firing of mitral cells (MCs) in the olfactory bulb (OB) has been hypothesized to help bind information together in olfactory cortex (OC). In this survey of synchronized firing by suspected MCs in awake, behaving vertebrates, we find the surprising result that synchronized firing conveys information on odor value ("Is it rewarded?") rather than odor identity ("What is the odor?"). We observed that as mice learned to discriminate between odors, synchronous firing responses to the rewarded and unrewarded odors became divergent. Furthermore, adrenergic blockage decreases the magnitude of odor divergence of synchronous trains, suggesting that MCs contribute to decision-making through adrenergic-modulated synchronized firing. Thus, in the olfactory system information on stimulus reward is found in MCs one synapse away from the sensory neuron.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology*
  • Electrophysiology
  • Mice
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Norepinephrine / metabolism
  • Odorants
  • Olfactory Pathways / physiology*
  • Smell / physiology


  • Norepinephrine