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Is there a space–time continuum in olfaction?


The coding of olfactory stimuli across a wide range of organisms may rely on fundamentally similar mechanisms in which a complement of specific odorant receptors on olfactory sensory neurons respond differentially to airborne chemicals to initiate the process by which specific odors are perceived. The question that we address in this review is the role of specific neurons in mediating this sensory system—an identity code—relative to the role that temporally specific responses across many neurons play in producing an olfactory perception—a temporal code. While information coded in specific neurons may be converted into a temporal code, it is also possible that temporal codes exist in the absence of response specificity for any particular neuron or subset of neurons. We review the data supporting these ideas, and we discuss the research perspectives that could help to reveal the mechanisms by which odorants become perceptions.

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