Recent work in the anterior piriform cortex (aPCX) has demonstrated that cortical odor receptive fields are highly dynamic, showing rapid changes of both firing rate and temporal patterning within relatively few inhalations of an odor, despite relatively maintained, patterned input from olfactory bulb mitral/tufted cells. The present experiment examined the precision (odor-specificity) of this receptive field plasticity and compared it with the primary cortical afferent, olfactory bulb mitral/tufted cells. Adult Long-Evans hooded rats, urethan anesthetized and freely breathing, were used for single-unit recording from mitral/tufted and aPCX layer II/III neurons. Partial mapping of receptive fields to alkane odors (pentane, heptane, and nonane) was performed before and immediately after habituation (50-s exposure) to one of the alkanes. The results demonstrated that odor habituation of aPCX responses was odor specific, with minimal cross-habituation between alkanes differing by as few as two carbons. Mitral/tufted cells, however, showed strong cross-habituation within the odor set with the most profound cross effects to carbon chains shorter than the habituating stimulus. The results suggest that although mitral/tufted cells and aPCX neurons have roughly similar odor receptive fields, aPCX neurons have significantly better odor discrimination within their receptive field. The results have important implications for understanding the underlying bases of receptive fields in olfactory system neurons and the mechanisms of odor discrimination and memory.
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