On standardized tests of odor identification and odor detection, women tend to score better than men at nearly all age groups. We sought to determine if these findings would translate to differences between the sexes in the volume of activated brain when odors are presented to subjects as the stimulants for functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) experiments. The activation maps of eight right-handed women (mean age 25.3 years old, range 20-44, S.D. 8.3 years) were compared with those of 8 right-handed men (mean age 30.5, range 18-37, S.D. 6.5 years) given the same olfactory nerve stimuli in an FMRI experiment at 1.5 T. Olfactory stimuli were delivered to the patients in a passive fashion using a Burghart OM4-B olfactometer with a nose piece inserted into the patients' nostrils. We used agents (eugenol, phenyl ethyl alcohol, or phenyl ethyl alcohol alternating with hydrogen sulfide) that were selective for olfactory nerve stimulation in the nose. The odorants were delivered to both nostrils for 1 s every 4 s during a 30 s 'on-period'. During the 30 s 'off-period', the patient received room air at the same flow rate. The women's group-averaged activation maps showed up to eight times more activated voxels than men for specific regions of the brain (frontal and perisylvian regions). The left and right inferior frontal regions showed a statistically significant increase in activation in women at p<0.01. In general, more women showed activation than men. The results suggest that (1) FMRI activation maps in subject groups can demonstrate correlates to psychophysical tests of olfaction, and (2) one must control for gender when performing odor-stimulated FMRI experiments.
Copyright 1999 Elsevier Science B.V.