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Science 311 (5766): 1477-1481

Copyright © 2006 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Combinatorial Effects of Odorant Mixes in Olfactory Cortex

Zhihua Zou*, and Linda B. Buck{dagger}

Abstract: In mammals, each odorant is detected by a combination of different odorant receptors. Signals from different types of receptors are segregated in the nose and the olfactory bulb, but appear to be combined in individual neurons in the olfactory cortex. Here, we report that binary odorant mixes stimulate cortical neurons that are not stimulated by their individual component odorants. We propose that cortical neurons require combinations of receptor inputs for activation and that merging the receptor codes of two odorants provides novel combinations of receptor inputs that stimulate neurons beyond those activated by the single odorants. These findings may explain why odorant mixtures can elicit novel odor percepts in humans.

Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Division of Basic Sciences, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, 1100 Fairview Avenue North, Seattle, WA 98109, USA.

* Present address: Department of Neuroscience and Cell Biology, The University of Texas Medical Branch, 301 University Boulevard, Galveston, TX 77555–0620, USA.

{dagger} To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: lbuck{at}

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