Individual and synergistic effects of sniffing frequency and flow rate on olfactory bulb activity

J Neurophysiol. 2011 Dec;106(6):2813-24. doi: 10.1152/jn.00672.2011. Epub 2011 Sep 7.


Is faster or stronger sniffing important for the olfactory system? Odorant molecules are captured by sniffing. The features of sniffing constrain both the temporality and intensity of the input to the olfactory structures. In this context, it is clear that variations in both the sniff frequency and flow rate have a major impact on the activation of olfactory structures. However, the question of how frequency and flow rate individually or synergistically impact bulbar output has not been answered. We have addressed this question using multiple experimental approaches. In double-tracheotomized, anesthetized rats, we recorded both the bulbar local field potential (LFP) and mitral/tufted cells' activities when the sampling flow rate and frequency were controlled independently. We found that a tradeoff between the sampling frequency and the flow rate could maintain olfactory bulb sampling-related rhythmicity and that only an increase in flow rate could induce a faster, odor-evoked response. LFP and sniffing were recorded in awake rats. We found that sampling-related rhythmicity was maintained during high-frequency sniffing. Furthermore, we observed that the covariation between the frequency and flow rate, which was necessary for the tradeoff seen in the anesthetized preparations, also occurred in awake animals. Our study shows that the sampling frequency and flow rate can act either independently or synergistically on bulbar output to shape the neuronal message. The system likely takes advantage of this flexibility to adapt sniffing strategies to animal behavior. Our study provides additional support for the idea that sniffing and olfaction function in an integrated manner.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Anesthesia
  • Animals
  • Biological Clocks / physiology
  • Male
  • Odorants*
  • Olfactory Bulb / cytology*
  • Olfactory Bulb / physiology*
  • Olfactory Pathways / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Reaction Time
  • Respiration
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / classification
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / physiology*
  • Smell / physiology*
  • Telemetry
  • Tracheotomy
  • Wakefulness / physiology