Spontaneous and Sensory-evoked Activity in Mouse Olfactory Sensory Neurons with Defined Odorant Receptors

Timothy Connelly, Agnes Savigner, Minghong Ma


Sensory systems need to tease out stimulation-evoked activity against a noisy background. In the olfactory system, the odor response profile of an olfactory sensory neuron (OSN) is dependent on the type of odorant receptor it expresses. OSNs also exhibit spontaneous activity, which plays a role in establishing proper synaptic connections and may also increase the sensitivity of the cells. However, where the spontaneous activity originates and whether it informs sensory-evoked activity remain unclear. We addressed these questions by examining patch-clamp recordings of genetically labeled mouse OSNs with defined odorant receptors in intact olfactory epithelia. We show that OSNs expressing different odorant receptors had significantly different rates of basal activity. Additionally, OSNs expressing an inactive mutant I7 receptor completely lacked spontaneous activity, despite being able to fire action potentials in response to current injection. This finding strongly suggests that the spontaneous firing of an OSN originates from the spontaneous activation of its G-protein coupled odorant receptor. Moreover, OSNs expressing the same receptor displayed considerable variation in their spontaneous activity and the variation was broadened upon odor stimulation. Interestingly, there is no significant correlation between the spontaneous and sensory-evoked activity in these neurons. This study reveals that the odorant receptor type determines the spontaneous firing rate of OSNs, but the basal activity does not correlate with the activity induced by near-saturated odor stimulation. The implications of these findings on olfactory information processing are discussed.

  • spontaneous activity
  • olfactory sensory neuron
  • odorant response
  • odorant receptor
  • patch clamp