NEW YORK, November 20, 2011 In a new study scientists at NYU Langone Medical Center have shown that the sense of smell can be improved. The new findings, published online November 20, 2011, in Nature Neuroscience, suggest possible ways to reverse the loss of smell due to aging or disease.
Smell is unique among our senses, explains Donald A. Wilson, PhD, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center and senior research scientist at the Emotional Brain Institute at Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research, who led the study. The olfactory bulb, a structure beneath the frontal cortex that receives nerve impulses from the nose, also has direct connections to the amygdala, which controls emotions and physiology, and to higher-order regions like the prefrontal cortex, involved in cognition and planning. "Unlike information from your eyes and ears that has gone through many connections to reach the frontal cortex, the olfactory system is just two connections away," says Dr. Wilson. "The result is an immediate pathway from the environment through our nose to our memory."
Although impairment in the sense of smell is associated with Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia, and even normal aging, exactly why smell weakens remains a mystery, but recent laboratory research led by Dr. Wilson reveals how it may occur. "We located where in the brain loss of smell may happen," he says. "And we showed that training can improve the sense of smell, and also make it worse."
Dr. Wilson and Julie Chapuis, PhD, a post-doctoral fellow, placed thirsty rats in boxes with a snout-sized hole in each of three walls and exposed them to brief blasts of odors through the middle hole. There were three smells in all: a mix of 10 chemicals from fruits, oils, cleaning agents, etc.; the same mixture with one chemical replaced by another; and the same mixture minus one of the chemicals. When the rodents
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NYU Langone Medical Center / New York University School of Medicine