Mouse Navigation Strategies for Odor Source Localization

Front Neurosci. 2020 Mar 20:14:218. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2020.00218. eCollection 2020.


Navigating an odor landscape is a critical behavior for the survival of many species, including mice. An ethologically relevant mouse behavior is locating food using information about odor concentration. To approximate this behavior, we used an open field odor-based spot-finding task indoors with little wind, examining navigation strategies as mice search for and approach an odor source. After mice were trained to navigate to odor sources paired with food reward, we observed behavioral changes consistent with localization 10-45 cm away from the source. These behaviors included orientation toward the source, decreased velocity, and increased exploration time. We also found that the amplitude of 'casting,' which we define as lateral back and forth movement of the nose, increased with proximity to the source. Based on these observations, we created a concentration-sensitive agent-based model to simulate mouse behavior. This model provided evidence for a binaral-sniffing strategy (inter-nostril comparison of concentration in a single sniff) and a serial-sniffing strategy (sampling concentration, moving in space, and then sampling again). Serial-sniffing may be accomplished at farther distances by moving the body and at closer distances by moving the head (casting). Together, these results elucidate components of behavioral strategies for odor-based navigation.

Keywords: binaral-olfaction; binaral-sniffing; casting; navigation; olfaction; serial-sniffing.