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Sci Rep. 2011;1:206. doi: 10.1038/srep00206. Epub 2011 Dec 22.

Molecular complexity determines the number of olfactory notes and the pleasantness of smells.

Author information

INSERM, U1028, CNRS, UMR5292, Lyon Neuroscience Research Center, Neuroplasticity and Neuropathology of Olfactory Perception Team, Lyon, F-69000, France; University of Lyon, F-69000, France.

Erratum in

  • Sci Rep. 2013;3:1132.


One major unresolved problem in olfaction research is to relate the percept to the molecular structure of stimuli. The present study examined this issue and showed for the first time a quantitative structure-odor relationship in which the more structurally complex a monomolecular odorant, the more numerous the olfactory notes it evokes. Low-complexity odorants were also rated as more aversive, reflecting the fact that low molecular complexity may serve as a warning cue for the olfactory system. Taken together, these findings suggest that molecular complexity provides a framework to explain the subjective experience of smells.

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