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Irritating smells alert special cells, NIH-funded study finds
Date:3/3/2008

in the volatile chemicals citral and geraniol but at levels too low to trigger a trigeminal response. Only high, potentially dangerous levels of odors will trigger the protective gagging-and-coughing response.

The researchers point out that their findings provide an example of the Law of Specific Nerve Energies, conceived by Johannes Peter Muller in 1826. Muller said that the way we perceive a stimulus depends on the nerve or sensory system that conveys it rather than the physical nature of the stimulus itself. In the case of irritating odors, we perceive them as irritating because they are transmitted via the trigeminal nerve, leading the brain to interpret the message as pain rather than as a smell.

The researchers say their findings raise new questions about how irritating odors are detected. They say more research is needed to explore whether solitary chemosensory cells are programmed to recognize specific irritants, which receptors are involved, and what steps a solitary chemosensory cell uses to convert a chemical stimulus to a signal it relays to the trigeminal nerve.


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Contact: Linda Joy
ljoy@mail.nih.gov
301-496-7243
NIH/National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
Source:Eurekalert

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