1. The effect of the timing between nasal airflow and ongoing tracheal respiration on single-unit activity in the olfactory bulb (OB) of the rat was examined. Nasal and tracheal breathing were dissociated with the use of a double tracheal cannulation technique that allowed independent control of nasal airflow and control of the synchronization of nasal airflow and tracheal breathing. 2. When amyl acetate-saturated air was presented to the nose, OB units showed a distinct reorganization of activity known as respiratory patterning. Of 43 cells examined, 29 fired maximally after inspiration, and 14 fired maximally after expiration. In all 43 cells the patterning of OB activity was synchronized with the time course of the nasal stimulation. This synchronization was independent of the point in the ongoing respiratory cycle (tracheal breathing) at which the odor stimulation was applied. 3. Patterning of OB single-unit activity was also observed when odor was applied as a series of 'inspirations' without intervening expirations. Patterning was observed to follow the time course of the odor stimulation even when this was considerably longer and slower than normal breathing. No patterning of activity was observed during continuous odor stimulation or in the absence of odor stimulation. 4. It is concluded that respiratory patterning of OB single-unit activity in the rat is not directly dependent on centrifugal inputs synchronized to respiration. Rather, the observed pattern of neural activity reflects the phasic stimulation of the olfactory receptors with each inspiration and the dynamics of the circuitry intrinsic to the bulb itself.
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