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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Contrast enhancement of stimulus intermittency in a primary olfactory network and its behavioral significance

Hong Lei*, Jeffrey A Riffell, Stephanie L Gage and John G Hildebrand

Author Affiliations

ARL-Division of Neurobiology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721-0077, USA

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Journal of Biology 2009, 8:21  doi:10.1186/jbiol120

Published: 20 February 2009

Abstract

Background

An animal navigating to an unseen odor source must accurately resolve the spatiotemporal distribution of that stimulus in order to express appropriate upwind flight behavior. Intermittency of natural odor plumes, caused by air turbulence, is critically important for many insects, including the hawkmoth, Manduca sexta, for odor-modulated search behavior to an odor source. When a moth's antennae receive intermittent odor stimulation, the projection neurons (PNs) in the primary olfactory centers (the antennal lobes), which are analogous to the olfactory bulbs of vertebrates, generate discrete bursts of action potentials separated by periods of inhibition, suggesting that the PNs may use the binary burst/non-burst neural patterns to resolve and enhance the intermittency of the stimulus encountered in the odor plume.

Results

We tested this hypothesis first by establishing that bicuculline methiodide reliably and reversibly disrupted the ability of PNs to produce bursting response patterns. Behavioral studies, in turn, demonstrated that after injecting this drug into the antennal lobe at the effective concentration used in the physiological experiments animals could no longer efficiently locate the odor source, even though they had detected the odor signal.

Conclusions

Our results establish a direct link between the bursting response pattern of PNs and the odor-tracking behavior of the moth, demonstrating the behavioral significance of resolving the dynamics of a natural odor stimulus in antennal lobe circuits.