The lateral horn (LH) of the insect brain is thought to play several important roles in olfaction, including maintaining the sparseness of responses to odors by means of feedforward inhibition, and encoding preferences for innately meaningful odors. Yet relatively little is known of the structure and function of LH neurons (LHNs), making it difficult to evaluate these ideas. Here we surveyed >250 LHNs in locusts using intracellular recordings to characterize their responses to sensory stimuli, dye-fills to characterize their morphologies, and immunostaining to characterize their neurotransmitters. We found a great diversity of LHNs, suggesting this area may play multiple roles. Yet, surprisingly, we found no evidence to support a role for these neurons in the feedforward inhibition proposed to mediate olfactory response sparsening; instead, it appears that another mechanism, feedback inhibition from the giant GABAergic neuron, serves this function. Further, all LHNs we observed responded to all odors we tested, making it unlikely these LHNs serve as labeled lines mediating specific behavioral responses to specific odors. Our results rather point to three other possible roles of LHNs: extracting general stimulus features such as odor intensity; mediating bilateral integration of sensory information; and integrating multimodal sensory stimuli.
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