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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Glomerular input patterns in the mouse olfactory bulb evoked by retronasal odor stimuli

Yuichi Furudono, Ginny Cruz and Graeme Lowe*

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Monell Chemical Senses Center, Philadelphia, PA, USA

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BMC Neuroscience 2013, 14:45  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-14-45

Published: 8 April 2013



Odorant stimuli can access the olfactory epithelium either orthonasally, by inhalation through the external nares, or retronasally by reverse airflow from the oral cavity. There is evidence that odors perceived through these two routes can differ in quality and intensity. We were curious whether such differences might potentially have a neural basis in the peripheral mechanisms of odor coding. To explore this possibility, we compared olfactory receptor input to glomeruli in the dorsal olfactory bulb evoked by orthonasal and retronasal stimulation. Maps of glomerular response were acquired by optical imaging of transgenic mice expressing synaptopHluorin (spH), a fluorescent reporter of presynaptic activity, in olfactory nerve terminals.


We found that retronasally delivered odorants were able to activate inputs to multiple glomeruli in the dorsal olfactory bulb. The retronasal responses were smaller than orthonasal responses to odorants delivered at comparable concentrations and flow rates, and they displayed higher thresholds and right-shifted dose–response curves. Glomerular maps of orthonasal and retronasal responses were usually well overlapped, with fewer total numbers of glomeruli in retronasal maps. However, maps at threshold could be quite distinct with little overlap. Retronasal responses were also more narrowly tuned to homologous series of aliphatic odorants of varying carbon chain length, with longer chain, more hydrophobic compounds evoking little or no response at comparable vapor levels.


Several features of retronasal olfaction are possibly referable to the observed properties of glomerular odorant responses. The finding that retronasal responses are weaker and sparser than orthonasal responses is consistent with psychophysical studies showing lower sensitivity for retronasal olfaction in threshold and suprathreshold tests. The similarity and overlap of orthonasal and retronasal odor maps at suprathreshold concentrations agrees with generally similar perceived qualities for the same odorant stimuli administered by the two routes. However, divergence of maps near threshold is a potential factor in perceptual differences between orthonasal and retronasal olfaction. Narrower tuning of retronasal responses suggests that they may be less influenced by chromatographic adsorption effects.

Retronasal olfaction; Olfactory bulb; Glomerulus; Optical imaging; SynaptopHluorin