New York University
What the Nose Tells the Brain
All living organisms extract chemical information from the surrounding world. We know a lot about the genetic, cellular, and anatomical organization of our sense of smell, which has very similar organization from insects to mammals. However, we still do not know basic principles of odor coding, organization of the odor parameter space, and how odors are represented in the brain. We do not know how we can discriminate different sorts of wines, but group all wines in one category. How can we recognize coffee independently of its concentrations, and in the presence of the smell of a bakery?
In humans, odors are sensed by millions of receptor cells using ~350 types of receptor cells. Flies have 60 and mice ~1000 receptor types. An odor evokes a concentration-dependent spatial-temporal pattern of receptor cell activity. We are presented with an immensely complex combinatorial computation. And the central question of my research is to understand how these patterns are read by the brain.
In this talk I will present our recent results on testing a novel model for concentration-invariant odor coding based on temporal ranking of receptor. And then I will discuss our attempt to build a theory of odor space representation in the brain based on this model.