Functional asymmetry of left and right avian piriform cortex in homing pigeons' navigation

Anna Gagliardo, Francesca Odetti, Paolo Ioalè, Tommaso Pecchia, Giorgio Vallortigara
European Journal of Neuroscience 2005, 22 (1): 189-94
It has been shown that homing pigeons rely on olfactory cues to navigate over unfamiliar areas and that any kind of olfactory impairment produces a dramatic reduction of navigational performance from unfamiliar sites. The avian piriform cortex is the main projection field of olfactory bulbs and it is supposed to process olfactory information; not surprisingly bilateral lesions to this telencephalic region disrupt homing pigeon navigation. In the present study, we attempted to assess whether the left and right piriform cortex are differentially involved in the use of the olfactory navigational map. Therefore, we released from unfamiliar locations pigeons subjected, when adult, to unilateral ablation of the piriform cortex. After being released, the pigeons lesioned to the right piriform cortex orientated similarly to the intact controls. On the contrary, the left lesioned birds were significantly more scattered than controls, showing a crucial role of the left piriform cortex in processing the olfactory cues needed for determining the direction of displacement. However, both lesioned groups were significantly slower than controls in flying back to the home loft, showing that the integrity of both sides of the piriform cortex is necessary to accomplish the whole homing process.

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