• honeybee;
  • mixture;
  • neural processing;
  • olfaction;
  • optical imaging


Natural olfactory stimuli occur as mixtures of many single odors. We studied whether the representation of a mixture in the brain retains single-odor information and how much mixture-specific information it includes. To understand mixture representation in the honeybee brain, we used in vivo calcium imaging at the level of the antennal lobe, and systematically measured odor-evoked activity in 24 identified glomeruli in response to four single odorants and all their possible binary, ternary and quaternary mixtures. Qualitatively, mixture-induced activity patterns always contained glomeruli belonging to the pattern of at least one of the components, suggesting a high conservation of component information in olfactory mixtures. Quantitatively, glomerular activity saturated quickly and increasing the number of components resulted in an increase of cases in which the response of a glomerulus to the mixture was lower than that to the strongest component (‘suppression’). This shows global inhibition in the antennal lobe, probably acting as overall gain control. Single components were not equally salient (in terms of number of active glomeruli) and mixture activity patterns were always more similar to the more salient components, in a way that could be predicted linearly. Thus, although a gain control system in the honeybee antennal lobe prevents saturation of the olfactory system, mixture representation follows essentially elemental rules.