Finding the brain in the nose
Ann. Rev. Neurosci. 43:277
Olfaction is fundamentally distinct from other sensory modalities. Natural odor stimuli are complex mixtures of volatile chemicals that interact in the nose with a receptor array that, in rodents, is built from more than 1,000 unique receptors. These interactions dictate a peripheral olfactory code, which in the brain is transformed and reformatted as it is broadcast across a set of highly interconnected olfactory regions. Here we discuss the problems of characterizing peripheral population codes for olfactory stimuli, of inferring the specific functions of different higher olfactory areas given their extensive recurrence, and of ultimately understanding how odor representations are linked to perception and action.We argue that, despite the differences between olfaction and other sensory modalities, addressing these specific questions will reveal general principles underlying brain function.