Odour perception following bilateral damage to the olfactory bulbs

A possible case of blind smell

Gesualdo M. Zucco*, Massimo Prior, Giuseppe Sartori, Richard J. Stevenson

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    2 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    Introduction: Unconsciously detected chemicals may affect human behaviour (. Kirk-Smith et al., 1983; Stern and McClintock, 1998; Zucco et al., 2009), likeability judgements (. Li et al., 2007) and brain activity (. Lorig et al., 1990; Sobel et al., 1999). No studies, however, have investigated blind smell - the hypothetical olfactory counterpart of blindsight (. Weiskrantz et al., 1974). Methods: In this report, free and cued olfactory identification of suprathreshold odorants varying in irritancy (i.e., low or no irritant odours versus irritant odours), and taste identification abilities, were examined in patient MB who had undergone surgery for a meningioma. Post-operative imaging revealed encephalomalacia in the left gyrus rectus, with ablation of the left olfactory bulb and damage to the right, subcortical abnormality on the left near the orbital cortex, and damage to a small section of the right gyrus rectus. Results: On free identification MB, while denying a capacity to smell the odours, still correctly identified some and detected others significantly above chance. In contrast, awareness always accompanied correct detections of irritant odours. Cued odour identification was at chance and no taste impairments were observed. Conclusions: We suggest, tentatively, that MB's unusual pattern of awareness when detecting and identifying odours relative to irritant odours may represent an example of 'blind smell'.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)599-604
    Number of pages6
    JournalCortex
    Volume49
    Issue number2
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2013

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