Olfaction or olfactory perception is the sense of smell. This sense is mediated by specialized sensory cells of the nasal cavity of vertebrates, which can be considered analogous to sensory cells of the antennae of invertebrates. In humans, olfaction occurs when odorant molecules bind to specific sites on the olfactory receptors. These receptors are used to detect the presence of smell. They come together at what is called the glomerulus. The glomerulus is a structure that transmits signals to the olfactory bulb (a brain structure located directly above the nasal cavity and below the frontal lobe). Many vertebrates, including most mammals and reptiles, have two distinct olfactory systems—the main olfactory system, and the accessory olfactory system (used mainly to detect pheromones). For air-breathing animals, the main olfactory system detects volatile chemicals, and the accessory olfactory system detects fluid-phase chemicals. Olfaction, along with taste, is a form of chemoreception. The chemicals themselves that activate the olfactory system, in general at very low concentrations, are called odorants. Although taste and smell are separate sensory systems in land animals, water-dwelling organisms often have one chemical sense.
Volatile small molecule odorants, non-volatile proteins, and non-volatile hydrocarbons may all produce olfactory sensations. Some animal species are able to smell carbon dioxide in minute concentrations. Taste sensations are caused by small organic molecules and proteins.