We adapted the technique of intrinsic signal imaging to visualize how odorant concentration and structure are represented spatially in the rat olfactory bulb. Most odorants activated one or more glomeruli in the imaged region of the bulb; these optically imaged responses reflected the excitation of underlying neurons. Odorant-evoked patterns were similar across animals and symmetrical in the two bulbs of the same animal. The variable sensitivity of individual glomeruli produced distinct maps for different odorant concentrations. Using a series of homologous aldehydes, we found that glomeruli were tuned to detect particular molecular features and that maps of similar molecules were highly correlated. These characteristics suggest that odorants and their concentrations can be encoded by distinct spatial patterns of glomerular activation.
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