A Time Switch in the Brain Improves Sense of Smell

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Researchers find that neurons with inhibiting characteristics play a key role in this process.

When the brain processes olfactory stimuli, it differentiates between similar smells using subtly modulated signals. A study using behavioral studies in mice have shown that neurons with inhibiting characteristics play a key role in this process.

Our sense of smell is such a vital part of everyday life. Bad odors can show that food is rotten and pleasant odors can stimulate appetite and cause us to want to eat. The sense of smell is so close to our autonomic nervous system, which controls the unconscious functions in our bodies as well as affecting our emotions.

Scientists wanted to find out how similar scents are differentiated.

A team of scientists led by Prof. Thomas J. Jentsch and postdoctoral researcher Kathrin Godde of the Leiniz Institute for Molecular Pharmacology (FMP) and the Max Delbruck Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholz Association (MDC) collaborated with Swiss colleagues from the University of Geneva to discover more about this important part of perception.

The scientists wanted to find out how similar scents are differentiated or how our sense of smell is so finely tuned. Just a single note in the complex mixture of odors can tell whether fresh fish is still safe to eat. The odor molecules in the smells that we inhale are at the core of sensory perception.

Each olfactory cell carries only one kind of receptor.

Each of the olfactory cells carries only one kind of reception, which is specific to particular odor molecules. It is hard wired to one region in the olfactory bulb. This creates a spacial signature for a smell that is generated in the olfactory bulb. The scientists were able to show that to represent the very small differences between smells, time-dependent coding is also essential.

Mice were used to test whether or not they could still differentiate between odor molecules that were very different even after they had been genetically altered. The mice were no longer able to tell the difference between odor mixtures with slightly different ratios of the same odors. Also, they could not differentiate between molecules that are very similar in their chemical structure, such as lemon scent and turpentine scent. More research is needed in the area of how smell plays an important part of our lives.

Source: Medical News Today, http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/311539.php


 
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