Olfactory Pathway Animation

The olfactory system is the sensory system used for olfaction. Most mammals and reptiles have two distinct parts to their olfactory system: a main olfactory system and an accessory olfactory system. The main olfactory system detects volatile, airborn substances, while the accessory olfactory system senses fluid-phase stimuli. Behavioral evidence indicates that most often, the stimuli detected by the accessory olfactory system are pheromones.


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The olfactory system is often spoken of along with the gustatory system as the chemosensory senses because both transduce chemical signals into perception.

The mechanism of the olfactory system can be divided into a peripheral one, sensing an external stimulus and encoding it as an electric signal in neurons, and a central one, where all signals are integrated and processed in the central nervous system.


In mammals, the main olfactory system detects odorants that are inhaled through the nose, where they contact the main olfactory epithelium, which contains various olfactory receptors. These can distinguish a new odor from the background environmental odors and determine the concentration of the odor.

These olfactory receptors are connected to olfactory receptor neurons in the olfactory epithelium, which transduce receptoractivation into electrical signals in neurons. The signals travel along the olfactory nerve, which belongs to the peripheral nervous system. This nerve terminates in the olfactory bulb, which belongs to the central nervous system.

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