Multiple perceptible signals from a single olfactory glomerulus

Nat Neurosci. 2013 Nov;16(11):1687-91. doi: 10.1038/nn.3519. Epub 2013 Sep 22.


Glomeruli are functional units in the olfactory system. The mouse olfactory bulb contains roughly 2,000 glomeruli, each receiving inputs from olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) that express a specific odorant receptor gene. Odors typically activate many glomeruli in complex combinatorial patterns and it is unknown which features of neuronal activity in individual glomeruli contribute to odor perception. To address this, we used optogenetics to selectively activate single, genetically identified glomeruli in behaving mice. We found that mice could perceive the stimulation of a single glomerulus. Single-glomerulus stimulation was also detected on an intense odor background. In addition, different input intensities and the timing of input relative to sniffing were discriminated through one glomerulus. Our data suggest that each glomerulus can transmit odor information using identity, intensity and temporal coding cues. These multiple modes of information transmission may enable the olfactory system to efficiently identify and localize odor sources.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology*
  • Gene Targeting
  • Luminescent Proteins / genetics
  • Luminescent Proteins / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Odorants
  • Olfactory Bulb / cytology*
  • Olfactory Pathways / physiology*
  • Optogenetics
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Receptors, Odorant / genetics
  • Receptors, Odorant / metabolism
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Smell / physiology*


  • Luminescent Proteins
  • M72 odorant receptor, mouse
  • Receptors, Odorant
  • Calcium