Odour encoding by temporal sequences of firing in oscillating neural assemblies

Nature. 1996 Nov 14;384(6605):162-6. doi: 10.1038/384162a0.


Stimulus-evoked oscillatory synchronization of activity has been observed in many neural systems, including the cerebral cortex of mammals and the brain of insects. The possible functions of such rhythmic synchronization in neural coding, however, remain largely speculative. In the locust, odours evoke activity in dynamic (evolving) ensembles of transiently synchronized neurons. We report here that the active neurons composing these ensembles change in a stimulus-specific manner and with a high degree of reliability on a cycle-by-cycle basis during an odour response. Hence, information about an odour is contained not only in the neural assembly active at each oscillation cycle, but also in the precise temporal sequence in which these assemblies are updated during an odour response. Neural coding with oscillations thus allows combinatorial representations in time as well as in space.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Animals
  • Cortical Synchronization*
  • Electrophysiology
  • Female
  • Grasshoppers
  • Male
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Odorants
  • Smell / physiology*