Odors and memory: neural mechanisms for encoding contextual information in olfactory cortex

Olfaction is dynamic and highly associative, and environmental contexts heavily influence olfactory experiences. In addition to odor discrimination, knowing what you have experienced before (odor recognition) is also critical for animals. Despite this, few studies have examined the neural basis for associative features of olfaction and its neuronal bases are poorly understood. We aim to bridge the gap between theory and neurophysiology to provide a mechanism for the encoding of context in olfaction. We use technologies developed in psychophysics, neurophysiology, molecular biology and computational neuroscience to examine interactions between olfactory cortex and the navigational memory system (hippocampus) in a novel spatial context-dependent odor discrimination task. We hypothesize that odor contexts are encoded in olfactory cortex and driven by feedback hippocampal inputs. If successful, we will identify fundamental principles governing holistic sensory percepts in the brain.

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