In an effort to understand the olfactory code of rats, we collected more than 1,500,000 measurements of glomerular activity in response to 54 odorants selected to provide differences in functional groups and hydrocarbon structure. Each odorant evoked a unique response pattern by differentially stimulating clusters of glomeruli, called modules. Odorants sharing specific aspects of their structure activated the same modules, allowing us to relate responses to structure across approximately 80% of the glomerular layer. The most obvious relationship was between the presence of particular oxygen-containing functional groups and the activity of glomeruli within dorsal modules. Functional group-specific responses were observed for odorants possessing a wide range of hydrocarbon structure, including aliphatic, cyclic, and aromatic features. Even formic acid and acetone, the simplest odorants possessing acid or ketone functional groups, respectively, stimulated modules specific for these functional groups. At the same time, quantitative analysis of pattern similarities revealed relationships in activation patterns between odorants of similar hydrocarbon structure. The odorant responses were reliable enough to allow us to predict accurately specific aspects of odorant molecular structure from the evoked glomerular activity pattern, as well as predicting the location of glomerular activity evoked by novel odorants.
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