Numerical modeling of turbulent and laminar airflow and odorant transport during sniffing in the human and rat nose

Chem Senses. 2006 Feb;31(2):107-18. doi: 10.1093/chemse/bjj008. Epub 2005 Dec 14.


Human sniffing behavior usually involves bouts of short, high flow rate inhalation (>300 ml/s through each nostril) with mostly turbulent airflow. This has often been characterized as a factor enabling higher amounts of odorant to deposit onto olfactory mucosa than for laminar airflow and thereby aid in olfactory detection. Using computational fluid dynamics human nasal cavity models, however, we found essentially no difference in predicted olfactory odorant flux (g/cm2 s) for turbulent versus laminar flow for total nasal flow rates between 300 and 1000 ml/s and for odorants of quite different mucosal solubility. This lack of difference was shown to be due to the much higher resistance to lateral odorant mass transport in the mucosal nasal airway wall than in the air phase. The simulation also revealed that the increase in airflow rate during sniffing can increase odorant uptake flux to the nasal/olfactory mucosa but lower the cumulative total uptake in the olfactory region when the inspired air/odorant volume was held fixed, which is consistent with the observation that sniff duration may be more important than sniff strength for optimizing olfactory detection. In contrast, in rats, sniffing involves high-frequency bouts of both inhalation and exhalation with laminar airflow. In rat nose odorant uptake simulations, it was observed that odorant deposition was highly dependent on solubility and correlated with the locations of different types of receptors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Computer Simulation
  • Exhalation*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inhalation*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Nose / cytology
  • Nose / physiology*
  • Odorants
  • Olfactory Mucosa / physiology
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Odorant / physiology
  • Smell / physiology*


  • Receptors, Odorant