It has been hypothesized that the brain uses combinatorial as well as temporal coding strategies to represent stimulus properties. The mechanisms and properties of the temporal coding remain undetermined, although it has been postulated that oscillations can mediate formation of this type of code. Here we use a generic model of the vertebrate olfactory bulb to explore the possible role of oscillatory behavior in temporal coding. We show that three mechanisms—synaptic inhibition, slow self-inhibition and input properties—mediate formation of a temporal sequence of simultaneous activations of glomerular modules associated with specific odorants within the oscillatory response. The sequence formed depends on the relative properties of odorant features and thus may mediate discrimination of odorants activating overlapping sets of glomeruli. We suggest that period-doubling transitions may be driven through excitatory feedback from a portion of the olfactory network acting as a coincidence modulator. Furthermore, we hypothesize that the period-doubling transition transforms the temporal code from a roster of odorant components to a signal of odorant identity and facilitates discrimination of individual odorants within mixtures.

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