Imaging a population code for odor identity in the Drosophila mushroom body. Academic Article uri icon


  • The brain represents sensory information in the coordinated activity of neuronal ensembles. Although the microcircuits underlying olfactory processing are well characterized in Drosophila, no studies to date have examined the encoding of odor identity by populations of neurons and related it to the odor specificity of olfactory behavior. Here we used two-photon Ca(2+) imaging to record odor-evoked responses from >100 neurons simultaneously in the Drosophila mushroom body (MB). For the first time, we demonstrate quantitatively that MB population responses contain substantial information on odor identity. Using a series of increasingly similar odor blends, we identified conditions in which odor discrimination is difficult behaviorally. We found that MB ensemble responses accounted well for olfactory acuity in this task. Kenyon cell ensembles with as few as 25 cells were sufficient to match behavioral discrimination accuracy. Using a generalization task, we demonstrated that the MB population code could predict the flies' responses to novel odors. The degree to which flies generalized a learned aversive association to unfamiliar test odors depended upon the relative similarity between the odors' evoked MB activity patterns. Discrimination and generalization place different demands on the animal, yet the flies' choices in these tasks were reliably predicted based on the amount of overlap between MB activity patterns. Therefore, these different behaviors can be understood in the context of a single physiological framework.

published proceedings

  • J Neurosci

altmetric score

  • 19.5

author list (cited authors)

  • Campbell, R., Honegger, K. S., Qin, H., Li, W., Demir, E., & Turner, G. C.

citation count

  • 95

publication date

  • June 2013