Olfactory psychometric functions for homologous 2-ketones.
We measured concentration-detection (i.e., psychometric) odor functions for the homologous ketones propanone (acetone), 2-pentanone, 2-heptanone, and 2-nonanone. Under a forced-choice procedure, stimuli were presented via an 8-channel air-dilution olfactometer that allowed natural sampling of the odorant and whose output was quantified by gas chromatography. Subjects (17-22 per compound) comprised young adults from both genders, all normosmics and nonsmokers. A sigmoid (logistic) equation tightly fitted group and individual functions. The odor detection threshold (ODT) was the concentration detectable at halfway (P=0.5) between chance (P=0.0) and perfect (P=1.0) detection. Odor sensitivity increased (i.e., thresholds decreased) from acetone to heptanone, remaining constant for nonanone. This relative trend was also observed in previous work and in odor thresholds compilations, but the absolute ODTs obtained here were consistently at the lower end of those reported before. Interindividual variability of ODTs was about 1 order of magnitude. These odor functions measured behaviorally in humans were obtained at vapor concentrations 1000 times lower than functions measured via activation, with similar 2-ketones, of receptor neurons converging into individual olfactory glomeruli of mice, visualized with calcium sensitive dyes. Odorant concentrations presented as vapors (as in behavioral studies) and those presented as liquids (as in cellular/tissue studies) can be rendered equivalent via liquid-vapor partition coefficients and, then, compared in relative olfactory potency. These comparisons can reveal how sensitivity is progressively shaped across levels of the neural pathway.