Olfactory receptor neuron responses coding for rapid odour sampling

J Physiol. 2011 May 1;589(Pt 9):2261-73. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2010.203687. Epub 2011 Feb 28.


Vertebrate olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs) are stimulated in a rhythmic manner in vivo, driven by delivery of odorants to the nasal cavity carried by the inhaled air, making olfaction a sense where animals can control the frequency of stimulus delivery. How ORNs encode repeated stimulation at resting, low breathing frequencies and at increased sniffing frequencies is not known, nor is it known if the olfactory transduction cascade is accurate and fast enough to follow high frequency stimulation. We investigated mouse olfactory responses to stimulus frequencies mimicking odorant exposure during low (2Hz) and high (5Hz) frequency sniffing. ORNs reliably follow low frequency stimulations with high fidelity by generating bursts of action potentials at each stimulation at intermediate odorant concentrations, but fail to do so at high odorant concentrations. Higher stimulus frequencies across all odorant concentrations reduced the likelihood of action potential generation, increased the latency of response, and decreased there liability of encoding the onset of stimulation. Thus an increase in stimulus frequency degrades and at high odorant concentrations entirely prevents action potential generation in individual ORNs, causing reduced signalling to the olfactory bulb. These results demonstrate that ORNs do not simply relay timing and concentration of an odorous stimulus, but also process and modulate the stimulus in a frequency-dependent manner which is controlled by the chosen sniffing rate.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Animals
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / genetics
  • Inhalation Exposure
  • Mice
  • Mice, 129 Strain
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Nasal Mucosa / innervation*
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Odorants*
  • Olfactory Nerve / physiology*
  • Reaction Time
  • Respiratory Rate*
  • Sensory Thresholds
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Smell*
  • Time Factors


  • Green Fluorescent Proteins