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Calcium imaging in the ant Camponotus fellah reveals a conserved odour-similarity space in insects and mammals

Fabienne Dupuy12, Roxana Josens3, Martin Giurfa12 and Jean-Christophe Sandoz124*

Author Affiliations

1 Université de Toulouse; UPS; Research Centre for Animal Cognition (UMR 5169), 118 route de Narbonne, F-31062 Toulouse Cedex 9, France

2 CNRS; Research Centre for Animal Cognition (UMR 5169), 118 route de Narbonne, F-31062 Toulouse Cedex 9, France

3 Grupo de Estudio de Insectos Sociales, Departamento de Biodiversidad y Biologia Experimental, Facultad de Ciencias Exactas y Naturales, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Pabellon II, Ciudad Universitaria (C1428 EHA), Buenos Aires, Argentina

4 CNRS; Evolution, Genome and Speciation (UPR 9034), 1 avenue de la Terrasse, 91198 Gif-sur-Yvette cedex, France

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BMC Neuroscience 2010, 11:28  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-11-28

Published: 26 February 2010



Olfactory systems create representations of the chemical world in the animal brain. Recordings of odour-evoked activity in the primary olfactory centres of vertebrates and insects have suggested similar rules for odour processing, in particular through spatial organization of chemical information in their functional units, the glomeruli. Similarity between odour representations can be extracted from across-glomerulus patterns in a wide range of species, from insects to vertebrates, but comparison of odour similarity in such diverse taxa has not been addressed. In the present study, we asked how 11 aliphatic odorants previously tested in honeybees and rats are represented in the antennal lobe of the ant Camponotus fellah, a social insect that relies on olfaction for food search and social communication.


Using calcium imaging of specifically-stained second-order neurons, we show that these odours induce specific activity patterns in the ant antennal lobe. Using multidimensional analysis, we show that clustering of odours is similar in ants, bees and rats. Moreover, odour similarity is highly correlated in all three species.


This suggests the existence of similar coding rules in the neural olfactory spaces of species among which evolutionary divergence happened hundreds of million years ago.