Odorant receptors in the periphery map precisely onto olfactory glomeruli ("coding channels") in the brain. However, the odor tuning of a glomerulus is not strongly correlated with its spatial position. This raises the question of whether lateral inhibition between glomeruli is specific or nonspecific. Here we show that, in the Drosophila brain, focal activation of even a single glomerulus recruits GABAergic interneurons in all glomeruli. Moreover, the relative level of interneuron activity in different glomeruli is largely odor invariant. Although interneurons are recruited nonspecifically, glomeruli differ dramatically in their sensitivity to interneuron activity, and this is explained by their varying sensitivity to GABA. Interestingly, a stimulus is typically encoded in parallel by channels having high and low sensitivity to inhibition. Because lateral inhibition confers both costs and benefits, the brain might rely preferentially on "high" and "low" channels in different behavioral contexts.
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