Dynamic cortical lateralization during olfactory discrimination learning

J Physiol. 2015 Apr 1;593(7):1701-14. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2014.288381. Epub 2015 Feb 16.


Bilateral cortical circuits are not necessarily symmetrical. Asymmetry, or cerebral lateralization, allows functional specialization of bilateral brain regions and has been described in humans for such diverse functions as perception, memory and emotion. There is also evidence for asymmetry in the human olfactory system, although evidence in non-human animal models is lacking. In the present study, we took advantage of the known changes in olfactory cortical local field potentials that occur over the course of odour discrimination training to test for functional asymmetry in piriform cortical activity during learning. Both right and left piriform cortex local field potential activities were recorded. The results obtained demonstrate a robust interhemispheric asymmetry in anterior piriform cortex activity that emerges during specific stages of odour discrimination learning, with a transient bias toward the left hemisphere. This asymmetry is not apparent during error trials. Furthermore, functional connectivity (coherence) between the bilateral anterior piriform cortices is learning- and context-dependent. Steady-state interhemispheric anterior piriform cortex coherence is reduced during the initial stages of learning and then recovers as animals acquire competent performance. The decrease in coherence is seen relative to bilateral coherence expressed in the home cage, which remains stable across conditioning days. Similarly, transient, trial-related interhemispheric coherence increases with task competence. Taken together, the results demonstrate transient asymmetry in piriform cortical function during odour discrimination learning until mastery, suggesting that each piriform cortex may contribute something unique to odour memory.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Memory
  • Odorants*
  • Olfactory Cortex / physiology*
  • Rats, Long-Evans