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Author Notes:

Correspondence should be addressed to either of the following: John W. Scott, Department of Cell Biology, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA 30322., Email: ude.yrome@ttocsj; or Kai Zhao, 3500 Market St., Philadelphia, PA 19104., Email:kzhao@monell.org and Email: Zhaok@alumni.upenn.edu

Author contributions: J.W.S. and K.Z. designed research; L.S. and J.J. performed research; J.W.S. and K.Z. analyzed data; J.W.S. and K.Z. wrote the paper.

J.W.S. and K.Z. contributed equally to this work.

We thank William Goolsby for instrument construction.


Research Funding:

This work was supported by National Institutes of Health (NIH) Grants DC-00113 (to J.W.S.), R03 NIH 5R03DC008187 (to K.Z.), and 1S10RR024583-01 (to the PennVet Imaging Core).


  • computational fluid dynamics
  • electro-olfactogram
  • olfactory sensory neuron
  • rat

Tuning to Odor Solubility and Sorption Pattern in Olfactory Epithelial Responses


Journal Title:

Journal of Neuroscience


Volume 34, Number 6


, Pages 2025-2036

Type of Work:

Article | Final Publisher PDF


Odor information is first represented as a spatial activation pattern across the olfactory epithelium, when odor is drawn into the nose through breathing. This epithelial pattern likely results from both the intrinsic olfactory sensory neuron (OSN) sensitivity and the sorptive patterns imposed by the interaction of nasal aerodynamics with physiochemical properties of odorants, although the precise contributions of each are ill defined. Here, we used a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) model of rat nasal cavity to simulate the nasal aerodynamics and sorption patterns for a large number of odorants, and compared the results with the spatial neural activities measured by electro-olfactogram (EOG) under same flow conditions. The computational and experimental results both indicate greater sorption and response to a narrow range odorants as a function of their mucosal solubility, and this range can be further modulated by changes of intranasal flow rates and direction (orthonasal vs retronasal flow). A striking finding is that the profile of intrinsic EOG response measured in surgically opened nose without airflow constraints is similar to the shape of the sorption profile imposed by nasal airflow, strongly indicating a tuning process. As validation, combining the intrinsic response with the mucosal concentration estimated by CFD in nonlinear regression successfully accounts for the measured retronasal and orthonasal EOG response at all flow rates and positions. These observations redefine the role of sorption properties in olfaction and suggest that the peripheral olfactory system, especially the central zone, may be strategically arranged spatially to optimize its functionality, depending on the incoming stimuli.

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© 2014 the authors

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