Parallel representation of stimulus identity and intensity in a dual pathway model inspired by the olfactory system of the honeybee

Michael Schmuker, Nobuhiro Yamagata, Martin Paul Nawrot, Randolf Menzel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


The honeybee Apis mellifera has a remarkable ability to detect and locate food sources during foraging, and to associate odor cues with food rewards. In the honeybee's olfactory system, sensory input is first processed in the antennal lobe (AL) network. Uniglomerular projection neurons (PNs) convey the sensory code from the AL to higher brain regions via two parallel but anatomically distinct pathways, the lateral and the medial antenno-cerebral tract (l- and m-ACT). Neurons innervating either tract show characteristic differences in odor selectivity, concentration dependence, and representation of mixtures. It is still unknown how this differential stimulus representation is achieved within the AL network. In this contribution, we use a computational network model to demonstrate that the experimentally observed features of odor coding in PNs can be reproduced by varying lateral inhibition and gain control in an otherwise unchanged AL network. We show that odor coding in the l-ACT supports detection and accurate identification of weak odor traces at the expense of concentration sensitivity, while odor coding in the m-ACT provides the basis for the computation and following of concentration gradients but provides weaker discrimination power. Both coding strategies are mutually exclusive, which creates a tradeoff between detection accuracy and sensitivity. The development of two parallel systems may thus reflect an evolutionary solution to this problem that enables honeybees to achieve both tasks during bee foraging in their natural environment, and which could inspire the development of artificial chemosensory devices for odor-guided navigation in robots.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17
JournalFrontiers in Neuroengineering
Publication statusPublished - 28 Dec 2011


Dive into the research topics of 'Parallel representation of stimulus identity and intensity in a dual pathway model inspired by the olfactory system of the honeybee'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this