Functionality of the Human Vomeronasal System
Our lab studies human olfaction. Our two main goals are (1) to elucidate the systems-level neurobiological mechanisms of olfactory processing, and (2) to elucidate ways in which chemical sensing effects human behavior. Methods currently used in our lab are functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), physiological monitoring, and olfactory psychophysics. Using these methods we have recently concentrated on the role of sniffing in olfactory processing. We have shown that because airflow is slightly different in each nostril, each nostril is in fact hyper tuned to better perceive different odorants. In other words, when humans take a sniff, each nostril conveys to the brain a slightly different olfactory image. We are now studying how the brain combines these two disparate images of the olfactory world into a single olfactory percept.
In addition to this major project, other ongoing projects in our lab are: Using fMRI to ask how are odorants encoded in olfactory cortex; Using fMRI and psychophysics to ask if humans can spatially localize odorants; Using psychophysics to study the olfactory deficit in neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's disease; Using fMRI, physiological recording, and psychophysics, to test for the existence of human pheromones, and the possibility of a functional human vomeronasal system.