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The Biological Sense of Smell: Olfactory Search Behavior and a Metabolic View for Olfactory Perception


Chee-Ruiter, Christine Wai Jun (2000) The Biological Sense of Smell: Olfactory Search Behavior and a Metabolic View for Olfactory Perception. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/wdn1-5v55.


Part I of the thesis describes the olfactory searching and scanning behaviors of rats in a wind tunnel, and a detailed movement analysis of terrestrial arthropod olfactory scanning behavior. Olfactory scanning behaviors in rats may be a behavioral correlate to hippocampal place cell activity.

Part II focuses on the organization of olfactory perception, what it suggests about a natural order for chemicals in the environment, and what this in tum suggests about the organization of the olfactory system. A model of odor quality space (analogous to the "color wheel") is presented. This model defines relationships between odor qualities perceived by human subjects based on a quantitative similarity measure. Compounds containing Carbon, Nitrogen, or Sulfur elicit odors that are contiguous in this odor representation, which thus allows one to predict the broad class of odor qualities a compound is likely to elicit. Based on these findings, a natural organization for olfactory stimuli is hypothesized: the order provided by the metabolic process. This hypothesis is tested by comparing compounds that are structurally similar, perceptually similar, and metabolically similar in a psychophysical cross-adaptation paradigm. Metabolically similar compounds consistently evoked shifts in odor quality and intensity under cross-adaptation, while compounds that were structurally similar or perceptually similar did not. This suggests that the olfactory system may process metabolically similar compounds using the same neural pathways, and that metabolic similarity may be the fundamental metric about which olfactory processing is organized. In other words, the olfactory system may be organized around a biological basis.

The idea of a biological basis for olfactory perception represents a shift in how olfaction is understood. The biological view has predictive power while the current chemical view does not, and the biological view provides explanations for some of the most basic questions in olfaction, that are unanswered in the chemical view. Existing data do not disprove a biological view, and are consistent with basic hypotheses that arise from this viewpoint.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Computation and Neural Systems
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Major Option:Computation and Neural Systems
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Bower, James M.
Thesis Committee:
  • Koch, Christof (chair)
  • Bower, James M.
  • Lewis, Nathan S.
  • Konishi, Masakazu
  • Shimojo, Shinsuke
Defense Date:8 May 2000
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:04092013-110459537
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:7595
Deposited On:09 Apr 2013 18:29
Last Modified:30 Aug 2022 23:52

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