Some like it, some do not: Behavioral responses and central processing of olfactory-trigeminal mixture perception
Exploring the potential of eucalyptol as a masking agent for aversive odors, we found that eucalyptol masks the olfactory but not the trigeminal sensation of ammonia in a previous study. Here, we further investigate the processing of a mixture consisting of eucalyptol and ammonia, two olfactory-trigeminal stimuli. We presented the two pure odors and a mixture thereof to 33 healthy participants. The nostrils were stimulated alternately (monorhinal application). We analyzed the behavioral ratings (intensity and pleasantness) and functional brain images. First, we replicated our previous finding that, within the mixture, the eucalyptol component suppressed the olfactory intensity of the ammonia component. Second, mixture pleasantness was rated differently by participants depending on which component dominated their mixture perception. Approximately half of the volunteers rated the eucalyptol component as more intense and evaluated the mixture as pleasant (pleasant group). The other half rated the ammonia component as more intense and evaluated the mixture as unpleasant (unpleasant group). Third, these individual differences were also found in functional imaging data. Contrasting the mixture either to eucalyptol or to both single odors, neural activation was found in the unpleasant group only. Activation in the anterior insula and SII was interpreted as evidence for an attentional shift towards the potentially threatening mixture component ammonia and for trigeminal enhancement. In addition to insula and SII, further regions of the pain matrix were involved when assessing all participant responses to the mixture. Both a painful sensation and an attentional shift towards the unpleasant mixture component complicates the development of an efficient mask because a pleasant perception is an important requirement for malodor coverage.