Sniffing longer rather than stronger to maintain olfactory detection threshold

Noam Sobel, Rehan M. Khan, Catherine A. Hartley, Edith V. Sullivan, John D.E. Gabrieli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Air flow-rate is usually higher in one nostril in comparison to the other. Also, within bounds, higher nasal flow-rate improves odorant detection. It follows from the above that odorant detection should be better in the nostril with higher flow-rate in comparison to the nostril with lower flow-rate. Paradoxically, previous research has shown that odorant detection thresholds are equal for the high and low flow-rate nostrils. Here we resolve this apparent paradox by showing that when detecting through the nostril with lower air flow-rate, humans sniffed longer than when detecting through the nostril with higher air flow-rate, thus equalizing performance between the nostrils. When this compensatory mechanism was blocked, a pronounced advantage in odorant detection was seen for the nostril with higher air flow-rate over the nostril with lower air flow-rate. Finally, we show that normal birhinal sniff duration may enable only one nostril to reach optimal threshold. This finding implies that during each sniff, each nostril conveys to the brain a slightly different image of the olfactory world. It remains to be shown how the brain combines these images into a single olfactory percept.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalChemical senses
Volume25
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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