How is sensory information represented in the brain? A long-standing debate in neural coding is whether and how timing of spikes conveys information to downstream neurons. Although we know that neurons in the olfactory bulb (OB) exhibit rich temporal dynamics, the functional relevance of temporal coding remains hotly debated. Recent recording experiments in awake behaving animals have elucidated highly organized temporal structures of activity in the OB. In addition, the analysis of neural circuits in the piriform cortex (PC) demonstrated the importance of not only OB afferent inputs but also intrinsic PC neural circuits in shaping odor responses. Furthermore, new experiments involving stimulation of the OB with specific temporal patterns allowed for testing the relevance of temporal codes. Together, these studies suggest that the relative timing of neuronal activity in the OB conveys odor information and that neural circuits in the PC possess various mechanisms to decode temporal patterns of OB input.
Keywords: neural coding; olfaction; pattern recognition.