Direct behavioral evidence for retronasal olfaction in rats

PLoS One. 2012;7(9):e44781. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0044781. Epub 2012 Sep 6.


The neuroscience of flavor perception is becoming increasingly important to understand abnormal feeding behaviors and associated chronic diseases such as obesity. Yet, flavor research has mainly depended on human subjects due to the lack of an animal model. A crucial step towards establishing an animal model of flavor research is to determine whether the animal uses the retronasal mode of olfaction, an essential element of flavor perception. We designed a go- no go behavioral task to test the rat's ability to detect and discriminate retronasal odorants. In this paradigm, tasteless aqueous solutions of odorants were licked by water-restricted head-fixed rats from a lick spout. Orthonasal contamination was avoided by employing a combination of a vacuum around the lick-spout and blowing clean air toward the nose. Flow models support the effectiveness of both approaches. The licked odorants were successfully discriminated by rats. Moreover, the tasteless odorant amyl acetate was reliably discriminated against pure distilled water in a concentration-dependent manner. The results from this retronasal odor discrimination task suggest that rats are capable of smelling retronasally. This direct behavioral evidence establishes the rat as a useful animal model for flavor research.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Female
  • Nasal Cavity / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Smell*