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Kleemann, Anna Maria (2010): Orientation in space using the sense of smell. Dissertation, LMU München: Medizinische Fakultät



Several studies reported that respiration interacts with olfactory perception. Therefore, in the pilot study of this experiment series human breathing was investigated during an olfactory experiment. Breathing parameters (respiratory minute volume, respiratory amplitude, and breathing rate) were quantified in response to odor stimulation and olfactory imagery. We provide evidence that respiration changed during smelling and during olfactory imagery in comparison to the baseline condition. In conclusion, olfactory perception and olfactory imagery both have an impact on the human respiratory profile, which is hypothesized to be based on a common underlying mechanism named sniffing. Our findings underline that for certain aspects of olfactory research it may be necessary to control and/or monitor respiration during olfactory stimulation. The human ability to localize odors has been investigated in a limited number of studies, but the findings are contradictory. We hypothesized that this was mainly due to differential effects of olfactory and trigeminal stimulation. Only few substances excite selectively the olfactory system. One of them is hydrogen sulphide (H2S). In contrast, most odorants stimulate both olfactory and trigeminal receptors of the nasal mucosa. The main goal of this study was to test the human ability to localize substances, which excite the olfactory system selectively. For this purpose we performed localization experiment using low and high concentrations of the pure odorant H2S, the olfactory-trigeminal substance isoamyl acetate (IAA), and the trigeminal substance carbon dioxide (CO2). In preparation for the localization study a detection experiment was carried out to ensure that subjects perceived the applied stimuli consciously. The aim of the detection study was to quantify the human sensitivity in response to stimulation with H2S, IAA, and CO2. We tested healthy subjects using an event-related experimental design. The olfactory stimulation was performed using an olfactometer. The results showed that humans are able to detect H2S in low concentration (2 ppm) with moderate sensitivity, and possess a high sensitivity in response to stimulation with 8ppm H2S, 50% v/v CO2, and 17.5% v/v IAA. The localization experiment revealed that subjects can localize H2S neither in low nor in high concentrations. In contrast to that, subjects possess an ability to localize both IAA and CO2 stimuli. These results clearly demonstrate that humans are able to localize odorants which excite the trigeminal system, but they are not able to localize odors that stimulate the olfactory system exclusively, in spite of consciously perceiving the stimuli.