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Int J Psychophysiol. 2001 Mar;40(2):119-27.

Age-related changes in olfactory processing detected with olfactory event-related brain potentials using velopharyngeal closure and natural breathing.

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Department of Psychology, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA, USA


Previous olfactory event-related potential (OERP) studies often employed the Velopharyngeal Closure (VC) method, which prevents respiratory air flow in the nose during odor presentation. However, the use of VC has limited the application of OERPs to populations able to perform this artificial breathing technique. The present study investigated the effects of Natural Breathing (NB) in comparison to VC on OERP latency and amplitude in young (mean age: 24 years) and elderly (mean age: 71 years) adults. OERPs were recorded from three midline scalp electrodes (Fz, Cz, Pz) for 15 trials in each breathing condition with an interstimulus interval of 3.5 min, using amyl-acetate as stimulus. Subjects were asked to report perceived stimulus intensity. A thermistor placed inside one nostril monitored nasal respiration and performance of VC. In the NB condition, subjects were instructed to breathe normally through mouth and nose, while stimulus presentation occurred during inspiration. In both breathing conditions, elderly subjects showed significantly smaller N1-P2 and N1-P3 interpeak amplitudes and longer latencies for N1, P2, P3 than younger subjects. VC generated significantly larger N1-P2 amplitudes across all electrode sites, whereas Natural Breathing produced a trend towards shorter P3 latencies. No significant interaction was found between age and breathing technique. The present investigation showed that the OERP is a sensitive measure for detecting age-related changes in olfactory function regardless of breathing technique.

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