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Follow your nose
Date:12/14/2011

This release is available in German.

Compared to Neanderthals, modern humans have a better sense of smell.

Differences in the temporal lobes and olfactory bulbs also suggest a combined use of brain functions related to cognition and olfaction.

The increase of brain size is intimately linked to the evolution of humanity. Two different human species, Neanderthals and modern humans, have independently evolved brains of roughly the same size but with differing shapes. This could indicate a difference in the underlying brain organization.

In a study published this week by Nature Communications, led by Markus Bastir and Antonio Rosas, of the Spanish Natural Science Museum (CSIC), high-tech medical imaging techniques were used to access internal structures of fossil human skulls. The researchers used sophisticated 3D methods to quantify the shape of the basal brain as reflected in the morphology of the skeletal cranial base. Their findings reveal that the human temporal lobes, involved in language, memory and social functions as well as the olfactory bulbs are relatively larger in Homo sapiens than in Neanderthals. "The structures which receive olfactory input are approximately 12% larger in modern humans than in Neanderthals", the authors explain.

These findings may have important implications for olfactory capacity and human behaviour. In modern humans the size of the olfactory bulbs is related to the capacity of detection and discrimination of different smells. Olfaction is among the oldest sense in vertebrates. "Also, it is the only one that establishes a direct connection between the brain and its environment", says Markus Bastir, the lead author of the study. While other senses must pass through different cortical filters, olfaction goes from the environment right into the highest centres of the brain. W
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Contact: Sandra Jacob
jacob@eva.mpg.de
49-341-355-0122
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Source:Eurekalert  

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