Computational exploration of molecular receptive fields in the olfactory bulb reveals a glomerulus-centric chemical map
Progress in olfactory research is currently hampered by incomplete knowledge about chemical receptive ranges of primary receptors. Moreover, the chemical logic underlying the arrangement of computational units in the olfactory bulb has still not been resolved. We undertook a large-scale approach at characterising molecular receptive ranges (MRRs) of glomeruli in the dorsal olfactory bulb (dOB) innervated by the MOR18-2 olfactory receptor, also known as Olfr78, with human ortholog OR51E2. Guided by an iterative approach that combined biological screening and machine learning, we selected 214 odorants to characterise the response of MOR18-2 and its neighbouring glomeruli. We found that a combination of conventional physico-chemical and vibrational molecular descriptors performed best in predicting glomerular responses using nonlinear Support-Vector Regression. We also discovered several previously unknown odorants activating MOR18-2 glomeruli, and obtained detailed MRRs of MOR18-2 glomeruli and their neighbours. Our results confirm earlier findings that demonstrated tunotopy, that is, glomeruli with similar tuning curves tend to be located in spatial proximity in the dOB. In addition, our results indicate chemotopy, that is, a preference for glomeruli with similar physico-chemical MRR descriptions being located in spatial proximity. Together, these findings suggest the existence of a partial chemical map underlying glomerular arrangement in the dOB. Our methodology that combines machine learning and physiological measurements lights the way towards future high-throughput studies to deorphanise and characterise structure-activity relationships in olfaction.