Adaptation as a mechanism for gain control in cockroach ON and OFF olfactory receptor neurons.
In many sensory systems adaptation acts as a gain control mechanism that optimizes sensory performance by trading increased sensitivity to low stimulus intensity for decreased sensitivity to high stimulus intensity. Adaptation of insect antennal olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs) has been studied for strong odour concentrations, either pulsed or constant. Here, we report that during slowly oscillating changes in the concentration of the odour of lemon oil, the ON and OFF ORNs on the antenna of the cockroach Periplaneta americana adapt to the actual odour concentration and the rate at which concentration changes. When odour concentration oscillates rapidly with brief periods, adaptation improves gain for instantaneous odour concentration and reduces gain for the rate of concentration change. Conversely, when odour concentration oscillates slowly with long periods, adaptation increases gain for the rate of change at the expense of instantaneous concentration. Without this gain control the ON and OFF ORNs would, at brief oscillation periods, soon reach their saturation level and become insensitive to further concentration increments and decrements. At long oscillation periods, on the other hand, the cue would simply be that the discharge begins to change. Because of the high gain for the rate of change, the cockroach will receive creeping changes in odour concentration, even if they persist in one direction. Gain control permits a high degree of precision at small rates when it counts most, without sacrificing the range of detection and without extending the measuring scale. © 2012 The Authors. European Journal of Neuroscience © 2012 Federation of European Neuroscience Societies and Blackwell Publishing Ltd.