Balancing the Robustness and Efficiency of Odor Representations during Learning

Neuron. 2016 Oct 5;92(1):174-186. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2016.09.004. Epub 2016 Sep 22.


For reliable stimulus identification, sensory codes have to be robust by including redundancy to combat noise, but redundancy sacrifices coding efficiency. To address how experience affects the balance between the robustness and efficiency of sensory codes, we probed odor representations in the mouse olfactory bulb during learning over a week, using longitudinal two-photon calcium imaging. When mice learned to discriminate between two dissimilar odorants, responses of mitral cell ensembles to the two odorants gradually became less discrete, increasing the efficiency. In contrast, when mice learned to discriminate between two very similar odorants, the initially overlapping representations of the two odorants became progressively decorrelated, enhancing the robustness. Qualitatively similar changes were observed when the same odorants were experienced passively, a condition that would induce implicit perceptual learning. These results suggest that experience adjusts odor representations to balance the robustness and efficiency depending on the similarity of the experienced odorants.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cadherins / genetics
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Odorants*
  • Olfactory Bulb / physiology*
  • Olfactory Perception / physiology*


  • Cadherins
  • Pcdh21 protein, mouse