Dynamics of odor sampling strategies in mice

PLoS One. 2020 Aug 14;15(8):e0237756. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0237756. eCollection 2020.


Mammalian olfactory receptor neurons in the nasal cavity are stimulated by odorants carried by the inhaled air and their activation is therefore tied to and driven by the breathing or sniffing frequency. Sniffing frequency can be deliberately modulated to alter how odorants stimulate olfactory receptor neurons, giving the animal control over the frequency of odorant exposure to potentially aid odorant detection and discrimination. We monitored sniffing behaviors and odorant discrimination ability of freely-moving mice while they sampled either decreasing concentrations of target odorants or sampled a fixed target odorant concentration in the presence of a background of increasing odorant concentrations, using a Go-NoGo behavioral paradigm. This allowed us to ask how mice alter their odorant sampling duration and sampling (sniffing) frequency depending on the demands of the task and its difficulty. Mice showed an anticipatory increase in sniffing rate prior to odorant exposure and chose to sample for longer durations when exposed to odorants as compared to the solvent control odorant. Similarly, mice also took more odorant sampling sniffs when exposed to target odorants compared to the solvent control odorant. In general, odorant sampling strategies became more similar the more difficult the task was, e.g. the lower the target odorant concentration or the lower the target odorant contrast relative to the background odorant, suggesting that sniffing patterns are not preset, but are dynamically modulated by the particular task and its difficulty.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Male
  • Mice / physiology*
  • Odorants* / analysis
  • Olfactory Bulb / physiology
  • Olfactory Perception*
  • Olfactory Receptor Neurons / physiology
  • Respiration
  • Smell*