The capabilities of any sensory system are ultimately constrained by the properties of the sensory neurons: the ability to detect and represent stimuli is limited by noise due to spontaneous activity, and optimal decoding in downstream circuitry must be matched to the nature of the encoding performed at the input. Here, we investigated the firing properties of sensory neurons in the accessory olfactory system, a distinct sensory system specialized for detection of socially relevant odors. Using multielectrode array recording, we observed that sensory neurons are spontaneously active and highly variable across time and trials and that this spontaneous activity limits the ability to distinguish sensory responses from noise. Sensory neuron activity tended to consist of bursts that maintained remarkably consistent statistics during both spontaneous activity and in response to stimulation with sulfated steroids. This, combined with pharmacological and genetic intervention in the signal transduction cascade, indicates that sensory transduction plays a role in shaping overall spontaneous activity. These findings indicate that as-yet unexplored characteristics of the sensory transduction cascade significantly constrain the representation of sensory information by vomeronasal neurons.
- Accessory olfactory system
- Signal transduction