Atulya Iyengar, Tuhin Subhra Chakraborty, Sarit Pati Goswami, Chun-Fang Wu, and Obaid Siddiqi
Olfactory responses of Drosophila undergo pronounced changes after eclosion. The flies develop attraction to odors to which they are exposed and aversion to other odors. Behavioral adaptation is correlated with changes in the firing pattern of olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs). In this article, we present an information-theoretic analysis of the firing pattern of ORNs. Flies reared in a synthetic odorless medium were transferred after eclosion to three different media: (i) a synthetic medium relatively devoid of odor cues, (ii) synthetic medium infused with a single odorant, and (iii) complex cornmeal medium rich in odors. Recordings were made from an identified sensillum (type II), and the Jensen–Shannon divergence (DJS) was used to assess quantitatively the differences between ensemble spike responses to different odors. Analysis shows that prolonged exposure to ethyl acetate and several related esters increases sensitivity to these esters but does not improve the ability of the fly to distinguish between them. Flies exposed to cornmeal display varied sensitivity to these odorants and at the same time develop greater capacity to distinguish between odors. Deprivation of odor experience on an odorless synthetic medium leads to a loss of both sensitivity and acuity. Rich olfactory experience thus helps to shape the ORNs response and enhances its discriminative power. The experiments presented here demonstrate an experience-dependent adaptation at the level of the receptor neuron.