“Sister cells” increase robustness of olfactory codes in Drosophila
Sensory systems face the challenge to represent sensory inputs in a way to allow easy readout of sensory information by higher brain areas. In the olfactory system of the fly drosophila melanogaster, projection neurons (PNs) of the antennal lobe (AL) convert a dense activation of glomeruli into a sparse, high-dimensional firing pattern of Kenyon cells (KCs) in the mushroom body (MB). Here we investigate the design principles of the olfactory system of drosophila in regard to the capabilities to discriminate odor quality from the MB representation and its robustness to different types of noise. We focus on understanding the role of highly correlated homotypic projection neurons (“sister cells”) found in the glomeruli
of flies. These cells are coupled by gap-junctions and receive almost identical sensory inputs, but target randomly different KCs in MB. We show that sister cells might play a crucial role in increasing the robustness of the MB odor representation to noise. Computationally, sister cells thus might help the system to improve the generalization capabilities in face of noise without impairing the discriminability of odor quality at the same time.
D. Zhang, Y. Li, S. Wu & M. J. Rasch. Design principles of the sparse coding network and the role of “sister cells” in the olfactory system of Drosophila. Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience 7, 141 (2013).