Odour reception takes place on the olfactory receptor neuron membrane, where molecular receptors interact with volatile odorant molecules. This interaction is classically thought to rely on chemical and structural features of the odorant, e.g. size, shape, functional groups. However, this model does not allow formulating a correct prediction for the smell of an odorant, suggesting that other molecular properties may play a role in the odour transduction process. An alternative model of olfaction maintains that odorant receptors can probe not only the structural and chemical features, but also the molecular vibration spectrum of the odorants. This constitutes the so-called vibration model of olfaction. According to this model, two isotopomers of the same molecule, i.e. two forms of the same molecule, one unaltered and one in which one or more hydrogen atoms are substituted with deuterium – which are therefore structurally and chemically identical, but with different molecular vibration spectra – would interact differently with an olfactory receptor, producing different olfactory perceptions in the brain. Here, we report on a duo-trio discrimination experiment conducted on human subjects, testing isotopomer pairs that have recently been shown to be differentially encoded in the honeybee brain.
olfaction, vibration model, isotopomer discrimination.