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Chem Senses. 2012 Jul;37(6):509-14. doi: 10.1093/chemse/bjs002. Epub 2012 Jan 31.

Stimulus selection for intranasal sensory isolation: eugenol is an irritant.

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  • 1Monell Chemical Senses Center, 3500 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.


Both the olfactory and the trigeminal systems are able to respond to intranasal presentations of chemical vapor. Accordingly, when the nose detects a volatile chemical, it is often unclear whether we smell it, feel it, or both. The distinction may often be unimportant in our everyday perception of fragrances or aromas, but it can matter in experiments that purport to isolate olfactory processes or study the interaction between olfaction and chemesthesis. Researchers turn to a small pool of compounds that are believed to be "pure olfactory" stimuli with little or no trigeminal impact. The current report reexamines one such commonly used compound, namely eugenol, a flavor and fragrance ingredient that has anesthetic properties under some conditions. Using a standard method involving many trials during an experimental session (Experiment 1), subjects were unable to reliably lateralize eugenol, consistent with claims that this compound is detected primarily through olfaction. However, with more limited exposure (Experiments 2 and 3), subjects were able to lateralize eugenol. We speculate that anesthetic properties of eugenol could blunt its trigeminal impact in some paradigms. Regardless, the current experiments suggest that eugenol can in fact stimulate the trigeminal nerve but in a complex concentration-dependent manner. Implications and strategies for selection of model odorants are discussed.

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