From molecule to mind: an integrative perspective on odor intensity

Trends Neurosci. 2014 Aug;37(8):443-54. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2014.05.005. Epub 2014 Jun 17.


A fundamental problem in systems neuroscience is mapping the physical properties of a stimulus to perceptual characteristics. In vision, wavelength translates into color; in audition, frequency translates into pitch. Although odorant concentration is a key feature of olfactory stimuli, we do not know how concentration is translated into perceived intensity by the olfactory system. A variety of neural responses at several levels of processing have been reported to vary with odorant concentration, suggesting specific coding models. However, it remains unclear which, if any, of these phenomena underlie the perception of odor intensity. Here, we provide an overview of current models at different stages of olfactory processing, and identify promising avenues for future research.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Odorants*
  • Olfactory Pathways / physiology*
  • Olfactory Perception / genetics
  • Olfactory Perception / physiology*
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / physiology
  • Smell / genetics
  • Smell / physiology*