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Chem Senses. 2008 Feb;33(2):107-18. Epub 2007 Oct 24.

Retronasal but not oral-cavity-only identification of "purely olfactory" odorants.

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  • 1Department of Neurobiology and Behavior,Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853-7601, USA.


Identifications of 5 odorants selected to be nontrigeminal stimuli were compared using retronasal and oral-cavity-only (OCO) air-phase presentations, with OCO produced by both exhalation through the mouth and a nose clip that closed the nostrils. Nine identifiers were available on each trial; 1 or 2 were correct for each odorant. Correct retronasal identifications were more common than OCO identifications and exceeded chance across subjects and for each subject; OCO correct identifications did not exceed chance. Retronasal reaction times were briefer than OCO reaction times. Correct retronasal identifications for vanillin, octanoic acid, phenylethyl alcohol, coumarin, and octane were 88%, 73%, 87%, 70%, and 85%, respectively; correct OCO identifications were, respectively, 10%, 12%, 18%, 35%, and 33%. Identifiers selected for retronasally presented odorants differed from those for other retronasally presented odorants, but identifiers for OCO-presented odorants did not differ between odorants. Overall, the retronasal identifications of nontrigeminal odorants both depended upon the odorant that was presented and corresponded to previous reported orthonasal identifications. In contrast, the OCO identifications, characterized by low percentages of correct identifications and an absence of differences between odorants in selected identifiers, suggested that OCO responses to nontrigeminal, purely olfactory odorants lack sufficient sensory information for either correct or differential identification.

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