Natural olfactory stimuli are volatile-chemical mixtures in which relative perceptual saliencies determine which odor-components are identified. Odor identification also depends on rapid selective adaptation, as shown for 4 odor stimuli in an earlier experimental simulation of natural conditions. Adapt-test pairs of mixtures of water-soluble, distinct odor stimuli with chemical features in common were studied. Identification decreased for adapted components but increased for unadapted mixture-suppressed components, showing compound identities were retained, not degraded to individual molecular features. Four additional odor stimuli, 1 with 2 perceptible odor notes, and an added “water-adapted” control tested whether this finding would generalize to other 4-compound sets. Selective adaptation of mixtures of the compounds (odors): 3 mM benzaldehyde (cherry), 5 mM maltol (caramel), 1 mM guaiacol (smoke), and 4 mM methyl anthranilate (grape-smoke) again reciprocally unmasked odors of mixture-suppressed components in 2-, 3-, and 4-component mixtures with 2 exceptions. The cherry note of “benzaldehyde” (itself) and the shared note of “methyl anthranilate and guaiacol” (together) were more readily identified. The pervasive mixture-component dominance and dynamic perceptual salience may be mediated through peripheral adaptation and central mutual inhibition of neural responses. Originating in individual olfactory receptor variants, it limits odor identification and provides analytic properties for momentary recognition of a few remaining mixture-components.

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