In the piriform cortex, individual odorants activate a unique ensemble of neurons that are distributed without discernable spatial order. Piriform neurons receive convergent excitatory inputs from random collections of olfactory bulb glomeruli. Pyramidal cells also make extensive recurrent connections with other excitatory and inhibitory neurons. We introduced channelrhodopsin into the piriform cortex to characterize these intrinsic circuits and to examine their contribution to activity driven by afferent bulbar inputs. We demonstrated that individual pyramidal cells are sparsely interconnected by thousands of excitatory synaptic connections that extend, largely undiminished, across the piriform cortex, forming a large excitatory network that can dominate the bulbar input. Pyramidal cells also activate inhibitory interneurons that mediate strong, local feedback inhibition that scales with excitation. This recurrent network can enhance or suppress bulbar input, depending on whether the input arrives before or after the cortex is activated. This circuitry may shape the ensembles of piriform cells that encode odorant identity.
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