Classification of odorants across layers in locust olfactory pathway. Sanda P, Kee T, Gupta N, Stopfer M, Bazhenov M. J Neurophysiol. 2016 May 1;115(5):2303-16.

Olfactory processing takes place across multiple layers of neurons from the transduction of odorants in the periphery, to odor quality processing, learning, and decision making in higher olfactory structures. In insects, projection neurons (PNs) in the antennal lobe send odor information to the Kenyon cells (KCs) of the mushroom bodies and lateral horn neurons (LHNs). To examine the odor information content in different structures of the insect brain, antennal lobe, mushroom bodies and lateral horn, we designed a model of the olfactory network based on electrophysiological recordings made in vivo in the locust. We found that populations of all types (PNs, LHNs, and KCs) had lower odor classification error rates than individual cells of any given type. This improvement was quantitatively different from that observed using uniform populations of identical neurons compared with spatially structured population of neurons tuned to different odor features. This result, therefore, reflects an emergent network property. Odor classification improved with increasing stimulus duration: for similar odorants, KC and LHN ensembles reached optimal discrimination within the first 300-500 ms of the odor response. Performance improvement with time was much greater for a population of cells than for individual neurons. We conclude that, for PNs, LHNs, and KCs, ensemble responses are always much more informative than single-cell responses, despite the accumulation of noise along with odor information.