Antagonistic odor interactions in olfactory sensory neurons are widespread in freely breathing mice

Joseph D. Zak, Gautam Reddy, Massimo Vergassola, Venkatesh N. Murthy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Odor landscapes contain complex blends of molecules that each activate unique, overlapping populations of olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs). Despite the presence of hundreds of OSN subtypes in many animals, the overlapping nature of odor inputs may lead to saturation of neural responses at the early stages of stimulus encoding. Information loss due to saturation could be mitigated by normalizing mechanisms such as antagonism at the level of receptor-ligand interactions, whose existence and prevalence remains uncertain. By imaging OSN axon terminals in olfactory bulb glomeruli as well as OSN cell bodies within the olfactory epithelium in freely breathing mice, we find widespread antagonistic interactions in binary odor mixtures. In complex mixtures of up to 12 odorants, antagonistic interactions are stronger and more prevalent with increasing mixture complexity. Therefore, antagonism is a common feature of odor mixture encoding in OSNs and helps in normalizing activity to reduce saturation and increase information transfer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3350
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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