Anatomical contributions to odorant sampling and representation in rodents: zoning in on sniffing behavior

Chem Senses. 2006 Feb;31(2):131-44. doi: 10.1093/chemse/bjj015. Epub 2005 Dec 8.


Odorant sampling behaviors such as sniffing bring odorant molecules into contact with olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs) to initiate the sensory mechanisms of olfaction. In rodents, inspiratory airflow through the nose is structured and laminar; consequently, the spatial distribution of adsorbed odorant molecules during inspiration is predictable. Physicochemical properties such as water solubility and volatility, collectively called sorptiveness, interact with behaviorally regulable variables such as inspiratory flow rate to determine the pattern of odorant deposition along the inspiratory path. Populations of ORNs expressing the same odorant receptor are distributed in strictly delimited regions along this inspiratory path, enabling different deposition patterns of the same odorant to evoke different patterns of neuronal activation across the olfactory epithelium and in the olfactory bulb. We propose that both odorant sorptive properties and the regulation of sniffing behavior may contribute to rodents' olfactory capacities by this mechanism. In particular, we suggest that the motor regulation of sniffing behavior is substantially utilized for purposes of "zonation" or the direction of odorant molecules to defined intranasal regions and hence toward distinct populations of receptor neurons, pursuant to animals' sensory goals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Odorants*
  • Olfactory Bulb / anatomy & histology*
  • Olfactory Bulb / physiology*
  • Olfactory Receptor Neurons / anatomy & histology
  • Olfactory Receptor Neurons / physiology
  • Rodentia / anatomy & histology*
  • Rodentia / physiology*
  • Smell / physiology*