Separate encoding of identity and similarity of complex familiar odors in piriform cortex.
Kadohisa M., Wilson DA.
Piriform cortical circuits are hypothesized to form perceptions from responses to specific odorant features, but the anterior piriform cortex (aPCX) and posterior piriform cortex (pPCX) differ markedly in their anatomical organization, differences that could lead to distinct roles in odor encoding. Here, we tested whether experience with a complex odorant mixture would modify encoding of the mixture and its components in aPCX and pPCX. Rats were exposed to an odorant mixture and its components in a go/no-go rewarded odor discrimination task. After reaching behavioral performance criterion, single-unit recordings were made from the aPCX and pPCX in these rats and in odor-naïve, control, urethane-anesthetized rats. After odor experience, aPCX neurons were more narrowly tuned to the test odorants, and there was a decorrelation in aPCX population responses to the mixture and its components, suggesting a more distinct encoding of the familiar mixture from its components. In contrast, pPCX neurons were more broadly tuned to the familiar odorants, and pPCX population responses to the mixture and its components became more highly correlated, suggesting a pPCX encoding of similarity between familiar stimuli. The results suggest aPCX and pPCX play different roles in the processing of familiar odors and are consistent with an experience-dependent encoding (perceptual learning) of synthetic odorant identity in aPCX and an experience-dependent encoding of odor similarity or odor quality in pPCX.