Abstract. In nature, olfactory signals are delivered to detectors—for example, insect antennae—by means of turbulent air, which exerts concurrent chemical and mechanical stimulation on the detectors. The antennal lobe, which is traditionally viewed as a chemosensory module, sits downstream of antennal inputs. We review experimental evidence showing that, in addition to being a chemosensory structure, antennal lobe neurons also respond to mechanosensory input in the form of wind speed. Benchmarked with empirical data, we constructed a dynamical model to simulate bimodal integration in the antennal lobe, with model dynamics yielding insights such as a positive correlation between the strength of mechanical input and the capacity to follow high frequency odor pulses, an important task in tracking odor sources. Furthermore, we combine experimental and theoretical results to develop a conceptual framework for viewing the functional significance of sensory integration within the antennal lobe. We formulate the testable hypothesis that the antennal lobe alternates between two distinct dynamical regimes, one which benefits odor plume tracking and one which promotes odor discrimination. We postulate that the strength of mechanical input, which correlates with behavioral contexts such being mid-flight versus hovering near a flower, triggers the transition from one regime to the other.

Authors. Mainak Patel, Harry H. Lei, Kaitlyn Lai, Omina Nematova, Katherine Wei, and Hong Lei