Behavioral and physiological evidence indicates that insect pheromone sensory neurons are able to resolve pulses of pheromone concentration as they occur downwind from a point source, but the abilities of insect sensory neurons that are sensitive to general odors to respond to pulsatile stimuli are unknown. The temporal response characteristics of olfactory sensory neurons of female American cockroaches Periplaneta americana in response to general odors were measured using a series of short odor pulses (20­400 ms). Odor pulses were delivered to olfactory sensilla in a moving airstream controlled by electromagnetic valves. The responses of sensory neurons were recorded using a tungsten electrode placed at the base of the sensillum. The temporal responses of sensory neurons followed the temporal changes in stimulus concentration, which were estimated by replacing the odorant with oil smoke and measuring the concentration of smoke passing through a light beam. Spike frequency varied with odorant concentration with surprisingly fine temporal resolution. Cockroach olfactory sensory neurons were able reliably to follow 25 ms pulses of the pure odorant 1-hexanol and 50 ms pulses of the complex odor blend coconut oil. Lower concentrations of odorants elicited responses with lower peak spike frequencies that still retained the temporal resolution of the stimulus pulses. Thus, responses of olfactory sensory neurons can reflect the fine structures of non-uniform distributions of general odorants in a turbulent odor plume as well as the average odorant concentration.

This content is only available via PDF.