Analysis of information processing in the olfactory bulb by in vivo experiments and theoretical modelling

Much information is conveyed to animals by the diverse molecules propagated in their environment. This information is transmitted and treated within the olfactory system to be utilized by the rest of the brain. In this process, the sensory flow arriving from the nose first encounters the olfactory bulb. This thesis studies different aspects of the encoding and treatment of olfactory information in the bulb by a combination of experimental and theoretical approaches. The olfactory bulb consists of two functional stages: an input stage where the nerve terminals from the sensory neurons of the nose are spatially arranged in a precise manner, and an output stage corresponding to the neurons which propagate the processed information towards the more central brain areas. The first part of this thesis is focused on the development of an image processing technique to precisely map the input stage. In a second part, output neurons activity in responsive areas of the bulb was recorded in anaesthetized mice. The data obtained indicate complex dynamics in neural activity on several time scales. We show that the combination of mean firing rates from a large enough ensemble of neurons allows to accurately predict the odor presented to the animal. We also show that temporal variables related to the dynamics give very little information complementary to the ensemble rate code, suggesting that these variables are not read by brain structures downstream to the bulb. In a third part, we developed a numerical model of the olfactory bulb to understand its fast oscillatory dynamics. The model proposes a mechanism based on the negative feedback from the interneurons that regulate output neurons. Some predictions of the model are checked experimentally. An analytical interpretation of the model is also proposed and its generalization to the analysis of fast oscillation in other parts of the brain is discussed.


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