Rapid Feedforward Inhibition and Asynchronous Excitation Regulate Granule Cell Activity in the Mammalian Main Olfactory Bulb

J Neurosci. 2015 Oct 21;35(42):14103-22. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0746-15.2015.


Granule cell-mediated inhibition is critical to patterning principal neuron activity in the olfactory bulb, and perturbation of synaptic input to granule cells significantly alters olfactory-guided behavior. Despite the critical role of granule cells in olfaction, little is known about how sensory input recruits granule cells. Here, we combined whole-cell patch-clamp electrophysiology in acute mouse olfactory bulb slices with biophysical multicompartmental modeling to investigate the synaptic basis of granule cell recruitment. Physiological activation of sensory afferents within single glomeruli evoked diverse modes of granule cell activity, including subthreshold depolarization, spikelets, and suprathreshold responses with widely distributed spike latencies. The generation of these diverse activity modes depended, in part, on the asynchronous time course of synaptic excitation onto granule cells, which lasted several hundred milliseconds. In addition to asynchronous excitation, each granule cell also received synchronous feedforward inhibition. This inhibition targeted both proximal somatodendritic and distal apical dendritic domains of granule cells, was reliably recruited across sniff rhythms, and scaled in strength with excitation as more glomeruli were activated. Feedforward inhibition onto granule cells originated from deep short-axon cells, which responded to glomerular activation with highly reliable, short-latency firing consistent with tufted cell-mediated excitation. Simulations showed that feedforward inhibition interacts with asynchronous excitation to broaden granule cell spike latency distributions and significantly attenuates granule cell depolarization within local subcellular compartments. Collectively, our results thus identify feedforward inhibition onto granule cells as a core feature of olfactory bulb circuitry and establish asynchronous excitation and feedforward inhibition as critical regulators of granule cell activity.

Significance statement: Inhibitory granule cells are involved critically in shaping odor-evoked principal neuron activity in the mammalian olfactory bulb, yet little is known about how sensory input activates granule cells. Here, we show that sensory input to the olfactory bulb evokes a barrage of asynchronous synaptic excitation and highly reliable, short-latency synaptic inhibition onto granule cells via a disynaptic feedforward inhibitory circuit involving deep short-axon cells. Feedforward inhibition attenuates local depolarization within granule cell dendritic branches, interacts with asynchronous excitation to suppress granule cell spike-timing precision, and scales in strength with excitation across different levels of sensory input to normalize granule cell firing rates.

Keywords: disinhibition; feedforward inhibition; olfaction; olfactory bulb; synaptic integration.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Channelrhodopsins
  • Computer Simulation
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials / genetics
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Luminescent Proteins / genetics
  • Luminescent Proteins / metabolism
  • Membrane Potentials / genetics
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neural Inhibition / genetics
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Olfactory Bulb / cytology*
  • Olfactory Marker Protein / genetics
  • Olfactory Marker Protein / metabolism
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Channelrhodopsins
  • Luminescent Proteins
  • Olfactory Marker Protein
  • yellow fluorescent protein, Bacteria