Of mice and men: They love the same smells

January 23rd, 2009 - 12:19 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Jan 23 (IANS) Humans and mice seem to love the same odours, research by a French team has revealed for the first time.Such preferences are not exactly determined by experience or culture, but also by the structure of the odorant molecule, their findings revealed.

The finding will enable a clearer understanding of the neuronal mechanisms coding for olfactory perception. More immediately, it may be possible to predict human olfactory preferences based on those observed in the mouse.

Odours strongly influence humans in sexual activity, social relations or food intake. Some are pleasant, others unpleasant, and induce attraction or repulsion.

This positive or negative value of an odour is very markedly affected by the experience and culture of the individual. For example, if we consider camembert cheese, its odour attracts many French people but may be repulsive to an individual from another culture.

And what if olfactory preferences involved an innate characteristic? They would then be dictated by the chemical structure and physical properties of the odorant molecule.

To answer this question, Nathalie Mandairon and Moustafa Bensafi, scientists in Anne Didier’s team in the “Neurosciences sensorielles, comportement, cognition” lab of France’s Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), measured the olfactory preferences of humans and mice in response to a series of odours.

In mice, researchers used the time spent by the animal in exploring a given odour as their index of preference. The human subjects were asked to reach their decision and attribute a “score” ranging from 1 to 9, from the most unpleasant to the most pleasant.

At the same time, the duration of sniffing, which tended to be longer when the odour was more pleasant, was also recorded.

The first conclusion was that humans and mice were attracted or repelled by the same odours. Geraniol, a floral odour, was one that was preferred by both species, said a CNRS release.

Conversely, guaiacol, which corresponds to a smell of smoke or burning, was one of the least appreciated. This result demonstrates the conservation of olfactory preferences between these two mammalian species.

The results were published in the January edition of Plos One.

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