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Heidelberg - Ithaca

German - US-American Collaboration in Computational Neuroscience

"Higher order feature detection in the olfactory bulb"

Every second, a plethora of sensory information streams upon us. How the neural circuits of our brains extract specific features out of this stream is largely a mystery. In the olfactory bulb, the first processing stage of olfactory information, the circuitry is dominated by two types of inhibition – local inhibition (mediated by so called juxtaglomerular neurons) and global inhibition, set up by the most numerous cells of the olfactory bulb, granule cells. A dogma in the field has been that these 1 million or so granule cells are primarily responsible for enhancing and amplifying contrast for different stimuli. Work by the two applicants, however, suggests that this is largely mediated by the local networks mentioned before. In this project it is proposed that granule-cell mediated inhibition is actually set up to indeed extract specific features of the olfactory world.

Based on previous experimental and theoretical work, the project will develop specific models of the olfactory bulb circuitry describing how granule cells render mitral cells, the output cells of the olfactory bulb, sensitive to specific higher-order patterns of inputs. This model is refined and calibrated with careful experiments using genetically targeted optical probes in the different cell types of the olfactory bulb of mice, thus allowing to stimulate and record defined subsets of neurons at varying spatial scales. It will be studied experimentally and computationally how information from many mitral cells is integrated in the fine processes of granule cells, thus rendering granule cells feature-selective. In a final stage, the proposed model will be probed with specific quantitative behavioral experiments.

In summary, through an intricate interplay of computational and experimental work, this project will dissect the circuitry of the olfactory bulb in order to elucidate the cellular mechanisms of higher-order pattern and feature recognition.


The following scientists take part in this collaboration:

  • Andreas Schaefer, Max Planck Institute for Medical Research, Heidelberg
  • Thomas Cleland, Dept. of Psychology, Cornell University, Ithaca, USA


German Coordinator:

Dr. Andreas Schaefer
Max Planck Institute for Medical Research
Jahnstrasse 29
D-69120 Heidelberg

Tel.: +49 (0) 6221 / 486 408
Fax: +49 (0) 6221 / 486 459