Olfactory detectability of homologous n-alkylbenzenes as reflected by concentration-detection functions in humans
ABSTRACT As part of our systematic exploration of chemical determinants for the olfactory potency of vapors towards humans, we measured concentration-detection functions for the odor of the homologous n-alkylbenzenes toluene, ethylbenzene, butylbenzene, hexylbenzene, and octylbenzene. A vapor delivery device based on dynamic olfactometry and calibrated by gas chromatography, served to test groups of 16 to 17 participants. Subjects were young adults from both genders, normosmics, and nonsmokers. Odor functions were tightly modeled by a sigmoid (logistic) function, both at the group and the individual level. Odor detection thresholds (ODTs), defined as the concentration producing a detectability halfway between chance and perfect detection, decreased with alkyl chain length from toluene (79 ppb) to butylbenzene (2.5 ppb), and then increased form butyl to octylbenzene (89 ppb). The “U”-shaped trend of ODTs as a function of alkyl chain length indicated a loss of odor potency beyond a certain molecular size, a phenomenon recently described for chemosensory irritation (chemesthesis) and that will need consideration in structure–activity models of chemosensory potency. Interindividual ODTs' variability for any single odorant amounted to one order of magnitude, in agreement with recent studies of other homologous series but quite smaller than commonly depicted.