Male moths use female-produced pheromones as orientation cues during the mate-finding process. In addition to the needs of evaluating the quality and quantity of the pheromone signal, the male moth also needs to resolve the filamentous structure of the pheromone plume to proceed toward the releasing point successfully. To understand how a discontinuous olfactory signal is processed at the central level, we used intracellular recording methods to characterize the response patterns of antennal lobe (AL) neurons to pulsatile stimulation with the full female-produced pheromone blend and its single components in male turnip moths, Agrotis segetum. Air puffs delivered at frequencies of 1, 3, 5, 7, or 10 Hz were used to carry the stimulus. Two types of AL neurons were characterized according to their capabilities to resolve stimulus pulses. The most common type could resolve at least 1-Hz pulses, thus termed fast neurons; another type could not resolve any pulses, thus termed slow neurons. When fast neurons were excited by stimuli, they always displayed biphasic response patterns, a depolarization phase followed by a hyperpolarization phase. This pattern could be evoked by stimulation with both the single pheromone components and the blend. The pulse-resolving capability of the fast neurons correlated significantly with the size of the hyperpolarization phase. When the amplitude was higher and the fall time of the hyperpolarization faster, the neuron could follow more pulses per second. Moreover, interactions between different pheromone components eliciting different response patterns did not improve the pulse-resolving capability of fast neurons.
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