Odor representations in olfactory cortex: distributed rate coding and decorrelated population activity

Neuron. 2012 Jun 21;74(6):1087-98. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2012.04.021.


How information encoded in neuronal spike trains is used to guide sensory decisions is a fundamental question. In olfaction, a single sniff is sufficient for fine odor discrimination but the neural representations on which olfactory decisions are based are unclear. Here, we recorded neural ensemble activity in the anterior piriform cortex (aPC) of rats performing an odor mixture categorization task. We show that odors evoke transient bursts locked to sniff onset and that odor identity can be better decoded using burst spike counts than by spike latencies or temporal patterns. Surprisingly, aPC ensembles also exhibited near-zero noise correlations during odor stimulation. Consequently, fewer than 100 aPC neurons provided sufficient information to account for behavioral speed and accuracy, suggesting that behavioral performance limits arise downstream of aPC. These findings demonstrate profound transformations in the dynamics of odor representations from the olfactory bulb to cortex and reveal likely substrates for odor-guided decisions.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Odorants
  • Olfactory Pathways / physiology*
  • Olfactory Perception / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Smell / physiology*