Circuit oscillations in odor perception and memory

Prog Brain Res. 2014:208:223-51. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-63350-7.00009-7.


Olfactory system neural oscillations as seen in the local field potential have been studied for many decades. Recent research has shown that there is a functional role for the most studied gamma oscillations (40-100Hz in rats and mice, and 20Hz in insects), without which fine odor discrimination is poor. When these oscillations are increased artificially, fine discrimination is increased, and when rats learn difficult and highly overlapping odor discriminations, gamma is increased in power. Because of the depth of study on this oscillation, it is possible to point to specific changes in neural firing patterns as represented by the increase in gamma oscillation amplitude. However, we know far less about the mechanisms governing beta oscillations (15-30Hz in rats and mice), which are best associated with associative learning of responses to odor stimuli. These oscillations engage every part of the olfactory system that has so far been tested, plus the hippocampus, and the beta oscillation frequency band is the one that is most reliably coherent with other regions during odor processing. Respiratory oscillations overlapping with the theta frequency band (2-12Hz) are associated with odor sniffing and normal breathing in rats. They also show coupling in some circumstances between olfactory areas and rare coupling between the hippocampus and olfactory bulb. The latter occur in specific learning conditions in which coherence strength is negatively or positively correlated with performance, depending on the task. There is still much to learn about the role of neural oscillations in learning and memory, but techniques that have been brought to bear on gamma oscillations (current source density, computational modeling, slice physiology, behavioral studies) should deliver much needed knowledge of these events.

Keywords: beta; coherence; gamma; hippocampus; odor discrimination; olfactory bulb; oscillation; piriform cortex; respiration; theta.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Clocks / physiology*
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Odorants*
  • Olfactory Pathways / cytology
  • Olfactory Pathways / physiology*
  • Olfactory Perception / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Respiration