The responses of neural elements in many sensory areas of the brain vary systematically with their physical position, leading to a topographic representation of the outside world. Sensory representation in the olfactory system has been harder to decipher, in part because it is difficult to find appropriate metrics to characterize odor space and to sample this space densely. Recent experiments have shown that the arrangement of glomeruli, the elementary units of processing, is relatively invariant across individuals in a species, yet it is flexible enough to accommodate new sensors that might be added. Evidence supports the existence of coarse spatial domains carved out on a genetic or functional basis, but a systematic organization of odor responses or neural circuits on a local scale is not evident. Experiments and theory that relate the properties of odorant receptors to the detailed wiring diagram of the downstream olfactory circuits and to behaviors they trigger may reveal the design principles that have emerged during evolution.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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