Olfactory input is critical for sustaining odor quality codes in human orbitofrontal cortex

  • Wu K
  • Tan B
  • Howard J
 et al. 
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Abstract

Ongoing sensory input is critical for shaping internal representations of the external world. Conversely, a lack of sensory input can profoundly perturb the formation of these representations. The olfactory system is particularly vulnerable to sensory deprivation, due to the widespread prevalence of allergic, viral, and chronic rhinosinusitis, but how the brain encodes and maintains odor information under such circumstances remains poorly understood. Here we combined functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) with multivariate (pattern-based) analyses and psychophysical approaches to show that a seven-day period of olfactory deprivation induces reversible changes in odor-evoked fMRI activity in piriform cortex and orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). Notably, multivoxel ensemble codes of odor quality in OFC became decorrelated following deprivation, and the magnitude of these changes predicted subsequent olfactory perceptual plasticity. Our findings suggest that transient changes in these key olfactory brain regions are instrumental in sustaining odor perception integrity in the wake of disrupted sensory input. In the 1960s, a series of landmark studies on the visual system of the developing cat highlighted the importance of sensory experience in shaping brain organization and function 1 . This work, along with studies of neural remapping of rodent barrel cortex 2 and monkey somatosensory cortex 3 , provided a powerful neuroscientific foundation that remains highly influential for understanding sensory system processing. A fundamental implication

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Authors

  • Keng Nei Wu

  • Bruce K. Tan

  • James D. Howard

  • David B. Conley

  • Jay A. Gottfried

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