Journal of Neurophysiology

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An electroolfactogram study of odor response patterns from the mouse olfactory epithelium with reference to receptor zones and odor sorptiveness

D. M. Coppola, C. T. Waggener, S. M. Radwani, D. A. Brooks


Olfactory sensory neuron (OSN) responses to odors, measured at the population level, tend to be spatially heterogeneous in the vertebrates that have been studied. These response patterns vary between odors but are similar across subjects for a given stimulus. However, few species have been studied making functional interpretation of these patterns problematic. One proximate explanation for the spatial heterogeneity of odor responses comes from evidence that olfactory receptor (OR) genes in rodents are expressed in OSN populations that are spatially restricted to a few zones in the olfactory epithelium (OE). A long-standing functional explanation for response anisotropy in the OE posits that it is the signature of a supplementary mechanism for quality coding, based on the sorptive properties of odor molecules. These theories are difficult to assess because most mapping studies have utilized few odors, provided little replication, or involved but a single species (rat). In fact, to our knowledge, a detailed olfactory response “map” has not been reported for mouse, the species used in most studies of gene localization. Here we report the results of a study of mouse OE response patterns using the electroolfactogram (EOG). We focused on the medial aspect of olfactory turbinates that are accessible in the midsagittal section. This limited approach still allowed us to test predictions derived from the zonal distribution of OSN types and the sorption hypothesis. In 3 separate experiments, 290 mice were used to record EOGs from a set of standard locations along each of 4 endoturbinates utilizing 11 different odors resulting in over 4,400 separate recordings. Our results confirmed a marked spatial heterogeneity in odor responses that varied with odor, as seen in other species. However, no discontinuities were found in the odor-specific response patterns across the OE as might have been predicted given the existence of classical receptor zones nor did we find clear support for the hypothesis that OE response patterns, presumably a reflection of OSN distribution, have been shaped through natural selection by the relative sorptive properties of odors. We propose that receptor zones may be an epiphenomenon of a contingent evolutionary process. In this formulation, constraints on developmental programs for distributing OSN classes within the OE may be minimally related to the odor ligands of specific class members. Further, we propose that odor sorptiveness, which appears to be correlated with the inherent response patterns in the OE of larger species, may be of minimal effect in mice owing to scaling issues.

  • olfactory-sensory neurons
  • sorption
  • maps
  • coding
  • chemotopy
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