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Structure–activity relationships on the odor detectability of homologous carboxylic acids by humans


We measured concentration detection functions for the odor detectability of the homologs: formic, acetic, butyric, hexanoic, and octanoic acids. Subjects (14 ≤ n ≤ 18) comprised young (19–37 years), healthy, nonsmoker, and normosmic participants from both genders. Vapors were delivered by air dilution olfactometry, using a three-alternative forced-choice procedure against carbon-filtered air, and an ascending concentration approach. Delivered concentrations were established by gas chromatography (flame ionization detector) in parallel with testing. Group and individual olfactory functions were modeled by a sigmoid (logistic) equation from which two parameters are calculated: C, the odor detection threshold (ODT) and D, the steepness of the function. Thresholds declined with carbon chain length along formic, acetic, and butyric acid where they reached a minimum (ODTs = 514, 5.2, and 0.26 ppb by volume, respectively). Then, they increased for hexanoic (1.0 ppb) and octanoic (0.86 ppb) acid. Odor thresholds and interindividual differences in olfactory acuity among these young, normosmic participants were lower than traditionally thought and reported. No significant effects of gender on odor detectability were observed. The finding of an optimum molecular size for odor potency along homologs confirms a prediction made by a model of ODTs based on a solvation equation. We discuss the mechanistic implications of this model for the process of olfactory detection.

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