Physiology & behavior

Trigeminal perception is necessary to localize odors.

PMID 19303891


The human ability to localize odorants has been examined in a number of studies, but the findings are contradictory. In the present study we investigated the human sensitivity and ability to localize hydrogen sulphide (H(2)S), which in low concentrations stimulates the olfactory system selectively, the olfactory-trigeminal substance isoamyl acetate (IAA), and the trigeminal substance carbon dioxide (CO(2)). A general requirement for testing of localization was the conscious perception of the applied stimuli by the participants. Using Signal Detection Theory, we determined the human sensitivity in response to stimulation with these substances. Then the subjects' ability to localize the three different substances was tested. We found that humans can detect H(2)S in low concentration (2 ppm) with moderate sensitivity, and possess a high sensitivity in response to stimulation with 8 ppm H(2)S, 17.5% IAA, 50% v/v CO(2). In the localization experiment, subjects could localize neither the low nor the high concentration of H(2)S. In contrast, subjects possessed the ability to localize IAA and CO(2) stimuli. These results clearly demonstrate that humans, in spite of the aware perception, are not able to localize substances which only activate the olfactory system independent of their concentration, but they possess an ability to localize odorants that additionally excite the trigeminal system.