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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1989 Oct;86(20):7976-8.

Ability to perceive androstenone can be acquired by ostensibly anosmic people.

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  • 1Monell Chemical Senses Center, Philadelphia, PA 19104.


Nearly half the adult human population does not perceive an odor when sniffing androstenone (5 alpha-androst-16-en-3-one), a volatile steroid found in human perspiration, boar saliva, some pork products (e.g., bacon), truffles, and celery. This variation in ability to perceive androstenone has a significant heritable component, suggesting that androstenone insensitivity is in part determined genetically. We now report that the ability to perceive androstenone was induced in 10 of 20 initially insensitive subjects who were systematically exposed to androstenone. Since olfactory neurons of the olfactory epithelium undergo periodic replacement from differentiating basal cells, and assuming the induction of sensitivity to be peripheral, we propose that a portion of the apparently anosmic human population does in fact possess olfactory neurons with specific receptors for androstenone. Such neurons may undergo clonal expansion, or selection of lineages with more receptors or receptors of higher affinity, in response to androstenone stimulation, much in the manner of lymphocytes responding to antigenic stimulation, thus raising odor stimulation to the level of conscious perception. As a guide to further study of the genetics and mechanism of variation of androstenone perception, we provisionally envisage three categories of human subjects, the truly anosmic, the inducible, and those subjects who either are constitutionally sensitive or have already experienced incidental induction.

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