Task Learning Promotes Plasticity of Interneuron Connectivity Maps in the Olfactory Bulb

J Neurosci. 2016 Aug 24;36(34):8856-71. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0794-16.2016.


Elucidating patterns of functional synaptic connectivity and deciphering mechanisms of how plasticity influences such connectivity is essential toward understanding brain function. In the mouse olfactory bulb (OB), principal neurons (mitral/tufted cells) make reciprocal connections with local inhibitory interneurons, including granule cells (GCs) and external plexiform layer (EPL) interneurons. Our current understanding of the functional connectivity between these cell types, as well as their experience-dependent plasticity, remains incomplete. By combining acousto-optic deflector-based scanning microscopy and genetically targeted expression of Channelrhodopsin-2, we mapped connections in a cell-type-specific manner between mitral cells (MCs) and GCs or between MCs and EPL interneurons. We found that EPL interneurons form broad patterns of connectivity with MCs, whereas GCs make more restricted connections with MCs. Using an olfactory associative learning paradigm, we found that these circuits displayed differential features of experience-dependent plasticity. Whereas reciprocal connectivity between MCs and EPL interneurons was nonplastic, the connections between GCs and MCs were dynamic and adaptive. Interestingly, experience-dependent plasticity of GCs occurred only in certain stages of neuronal maturation. We show that different interneuron subtypes form distinct connectivity maps and modes of experience-dependent plasticity in the OB, which may reflect their unique functional roles in information processing.

Significance statement: Deducing how specific interneuron subtypes contribute to normal circuit function requires understanding the dynamics of their connections. In the olfactory bulb (OB), diverse interneuron subtypes vastly outnumber principal excitatory cells. By combining acousto-optic deflector-based scanning microscopy, electrophysiology, and genetically targeted expression of Channelrhodopsin-2, we mapped the functional connectivity between mitral cells (MCs) and OB interneurons in a cell-type-specific manner. We found that, whereas external plexiform layer (EPL) interneurons show broadly distributed patterns of stable connectivity with MCs, adult-born granule cells show dynamic and plastic patterns of synaptic connectivity with task learning. Together, these findings reveal the diverse roles for interneuons within sensory circuits toward information learning and processing.

Keywords: circuit; interneuron; mitral; olfactory; optogenetics; plasticity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Association Learning / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Channelrhodopsins
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / genetics
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / metabolism
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics
  • Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Inhibitory Postsynaptic Potentials / genetics
  • Inhibitory Postsynaptic Potentials / physiology
  • Interneurons / classification
  • Interneurons / physiology*
  • LIM-Homeodomain Proteins / genetics
  • LIM-Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism
  • Light
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Neural Inhibition / genetics
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / genetics
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Odorants
  • Olfactory Bulb / cytology*
  • Optogenetics
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Thy-1 Antigens / genetics
  • Thy-1 Antigens / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism


  • Channelrhodopsins
  • Dlx5 protein, mouse
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • LIM-Homeodomain Proteins
  • Thy-1 Antigens
  • Transcription Factors
  • insulin gene enhancer binding protein Isl-1
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins