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Penn study on olfactory nerve cells shows why we smell better when we sniff

Unlike most of our sensory systems that detect only one type of stimuli, our sense of smell works double duty, detecting both chemical and mechanical stimuli to improve how we smell, according to University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine researchers in the March issue of Nature Neuroscience.

This finding, plus the fact that both types of stimuli produce reaction in olfactory nerve cells, which control how our brain perceives what we smell, explains why we sniff to smell something, and why our sense of smell is synchronized with inhaling.

"The driving force for such synchronization remained a mystery for more than 50 years," says senior author Minghong Ma, PhD, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience. "These results help us understand how the mammalian olfactory system encodes and decodes odor information in the environment."

Researchers tested two different types of stimulation on olfactory neurons in mice: chemical stimuli, such as those used in making perfumes that have almond-like and banana-like scents, and mechanical stimuli, that is pressure carried by air flow to the nostrils while breathing.

The group did this first by puffing a chemical stimulus into the nose. As expected, this produced a reaction in the olfactory neurons, the primary sensory neurons in the nose that perceive odors. Researchers then puffed a solution without the chemical stimuli into the mouse's nose. This also produced a similar, but smaller reaction in the olfactory neurons. By decreasing pressure of the non-odor solution, they also found that the reaction in the olfactory neurons was less, confirming that it was sensitive to mechanical stimulation.

When olfactory neurons respond to odor molecules, they transmit chemical energy into electrical signals, which then trigger a secondary molecular messenger cascade that generates electrical impulses to the brain, signaling that it is smelling something. The group discovered that chemical and me
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Source:University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine


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