Peripheral sensory cells and the central neuronal circuits that monitor environmental changes to drive behaviors should be adapted to match the behaviorally relevant kinetics of incoming stimuli, be it the detection of sound frequencies, the speed of moving objects or local temperature changes. Detection of odorants begins with the activation of olfactory receptor neurons in the nasal cavity following inhalation of air and airborne odorants carried therein. Thus, olfactory receptor neurons are stimulated in a rhythmic and repeated fashion that is determined by the breathing or sniffing frequency that can be controlled and altered by the animal. This raises the question of how the response kinetics of olfactory receptor neurons are matched to the imposed stimulation frequency and if, vice versa, the kinetics of olfactory receptor neuron responses determine the sniffing frequency. We addressed this question by using a mouse model that lacks the K+-dependent Na+/Ca2+ exchanger 4 (NCKX4), which results in markedly slowed response termination of olfactory receptor neuron responses and hence changes the temporal response kinetics of these neurons. We monitored sniffing behaviors of freely moving wildtype and NCKX4 knockout mice while they performed olfactory Go/NoGo discrimination tasks. Knockout mice performed with similar or, surprisingly, better accuracy compared to wildtype mice, but chose, depending on the task, different odorant sampling durations depending on the behavioral demands of the odorant identification task. Similarly, depending on the demands of the behavioral task, knockout mice displayed a lower basal breathing frequency prior to odorant sampling, a possible mechanism to increase the dynamic range for changes in sniffing frequency during odorant sampling. Overall, changes in sniffing behavior between wildtype and NCKX4 knockout mice were subtle, suggesting that, at least for the particular odorant-driven task we used, slowed response termination of the odorant-induced receptor neuron response either has a limited detrimental effect on odorant-driven behavior or mice are able to compensate via an as yet unknown mechanism.
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