Duke University Medical Center researchers have discovered how the brain creates a scent symphony from signals sent by the nose.
In studies in mice, the researchers found that nerve cells in the brain’s olfactory bulb — the first stop for information from the nose — do not perceive complex scent mixtures as single objects, such as the fragrance of a blooming rose. Instead, these nerve cells, or neurons, detect the host of chemical compounds that comprise a rose’s perfume. Smarter sections of the brain’s olfactory system then categorize and combine these compounds into a recognizable scent. According to the researchers, it’s as if the brain has to listen to each musician’s melody to hear a symphony.
Humans may rely on the same smell decoding system, because mice and men have similar brain structures for scent, including an olfactory bulb, the researchers said.
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