Behavioral studies of olfactory discrimination and stimulus generalization in many species indicate that the molecular features of monomolecular odorants are important for odor discrimination. Here we evaluate how features, such as carbon chain length and functional group, are represented in the first level of synaptic processing. We recorded antennal lobe ensemble responses in the moth Manduca sexta to repeated 100-ms pulses of monomolecular alcohols and ketones. Most units exhibited a significant change in spike rate in response to most odorants that outlasted the duration of the stimulus. Peristimulus data were then sampled over 780 ms for each pulse of all odorants. Factor analysis was used to assess whether there were groups of units with common response patterns. We found that factors identified and represented activity for clusters of units with common temporal response characteristics. These temporally patterned responses typically spanned 780 ms and were often dependent on carbon chain length and functional group. Furthermore, cross-correlation analysis frequently indicated significant coincident spiking even during spontaneous activity. However, this synchrony occurred mainly between units recorded on the same tetrode. In a final analysis, the Euclidean distance between odor responses was calculated for each pair of odorants using factors as dimensions. The distance between responses for any two odorants was maximized by ∼240 ms. This time course corresponded to the brief sequence of coordinated bursts across the recorded population. The distance during this period was also a function of systematic differences in molecular features. Results of this Euclidian analysis thus directly correlate to previous behavioral studies of stimulus generalization in M. sexta.
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