We present a model for olfactory coding based on spatial representation of glomerular responses. In this model distinct odorants activate specific subsets of glomeruli, dependent on the odorant's chemical identity and concentration. The glomerular response specificities are understood statistically, based on experimentally measured distributions of activation thresholds. A simple version of the model, in which glomerular responses are binary (the all-or-nothing model), allows us to account quantitatively for the following results of human/rodent olfactory psychophysics: 1) just noticeable differences in the perceived concentration of a single odor (Weber ratios) are as low as dC/C ≃ 0.04; 2) the number of simultaneously perceived odors can be as high as 12; and 3) extensive lesions of the olfactory bulb do not lead to significant changes in detection or discrimination thresholds. We conclude that a combinatorial code based on a binary glomerular response is sufficient to account for several important features of the discrimination capacity of the mammalian olfactory system.
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