The sense of smell is essential for insects to find foods, mates, predators, and oviposition sites 3. Insect olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) are enclosed in sensory hairs called sensilla, which cover the surface of olfactory organs. The surface of each sensillum is covered with tiny pores, through which odorants pass and dissolve in a fluid called sensillum lymph, which bathes the sensory dendrites of the OSNs housed in a given sensillum. The OSN dendrites express odorant receptor (OR) proteins, which in insects function as odor-gated ion channels 4, 5. The interaction of odorants with ORs either increases or decreases the basal firing rate of the OSN. This neuronal activity in the form of action potentials embodies the first representation of the quality, intensity, and temporal characteristics of the odorant 6, 7.
Given the easy access to these sensory hairs, it is possible to perform extracellular recordings from single OSNs by introducing a recording electrode into the sensillum lymph, while the reference electrode is placed in the lymph of the eye or body of the insect. In Drosophila, sensilla house between one and four OSNs, but each OSN typically displays a characteristic spike amplitude. Spike sorting techniques make it possible to assign spiking responses to individual OSNs. This single sensillum recording (SSR) technique monitors the difference in potential between the sensillum lymph and the reference electrode as electrical spikes that are generated by the receptor activity on OSNs 1, 2, 8. Changes in the number of spikes in response to the odorant represent the cellular basis of odor coding in insects. Here, we describe the preparation method currently used in our lab to perform SSR on Drosophila melanogaster and Anopheles gambiae, and show representative traces induced by the odorants in a sensillum-specific manner.