Ensemble response in mushroom body output neurons of the honey bee outpaces spatiotemporal odor processing two synapses earlier in the antennal lobe

PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e50322. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0050322. Epub 2012 Nov 29.


Neural representations of odors are subject to computations that involve sequentially convergent and divergent anatomical connections across different areas of the brains in both mammals and insects. Furthermore, in both mammals and insects higher order brain areas are connected via feedback connections. In order to understand the transformations and interactions that this connectivity make possible, an ideal experiment would compare neural responses across different, sequential processing levels. Here we present results of recordings from a first order olfactory neuropile - the antennal lobe (AL) - and a higher order multimodal integration and learning center - the mushroom body (MB) - in the honey bee brain. We recorded projection neurons (PN) of the AL and extrinsic neurons (EN) of the MB, which provide the outputs from the two neuropils. Recordings at each level were made in different animals in some experiments and simultaneously in the same animal in others. We presented two odors and their mixture to compare odor response dynamics as well as classification speed and accuracy at each neural processing level. Surprisingly, the EN ensemble significantly starts separating odor stimuli rapidly and before the PN ensemble has reached significant separation. Furthermore the EN ensemble at the MB output reaches a maximum separation of odors between 84-120 ms after odor onset, which is 26 to 133 ms faster than the maximum separation at the AL output ensemble two synapses earlier in processing. It is likely that a subset of very fast PNs, which respond before the ENs, may initiate the rapid EN ensemble response. We suggest therefore that the timing of the EN ensemble activity would allow retroactive integration of its signal into the ongoing computation of the AL via centrifugal feedback.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arthropod Antennae / physiology
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Electrodes
  • Electrophysiology / methods
  • Fluorescent Dyes / pharmacology
  • Honey
  • Mushroom Bodies / physiology*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Odorants
  • Olfactory Pathways / physiology
  • Olfactory Receptor Neurons / physiology
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • Smell / physiology*
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Time Factors


  • Fluorescent Dyes