A new study reveals for the first time that activating the brain's visual cortex with a small amount of electrical stimulation actually improves our sense of smell. The finding published in the Journal of Neuroscience by researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital - The Neuro, McGill University and the Monell Chemical Senses Center, Philadelphia, revises our understanding of the complex biology of the senses in the brain.
"It's known that there are separate specialized brain areas for the different senses such as vision, smell, touch and so forth but, when you experience the world around you, you get a coherent picture based on information from all the senses. We wanted to find out how this works in the brain," says Dr. Christopher Pack, lead investigator at The Neuro. "In particular we wanted to test the idea that activation of brain regions primarily dedicated to one sense might influence processing in other senses. What we found was that electrically stimulating the visual cortex improves performance on a task that requires participants to identify the odd odor out of a group of three." This result is interesting because it shows, for the first time, that on a basic level the brain structures involved in different senses are really quite interconnected in everyone - more so than previously understood.
"This 'cross-wiring' of senses has been described in people with synesthesia, a condition in which stimulation of one sense leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sense, causing people to see the colour of numbers, or smell words, or hear odours for example, says Dr. Johan Lundstrom at Monell Chemical Senses Center. "Now this study shows that cross-wiring of the senses exists in all of us, so we could all be considered synesthetic to a degree."
To examine the possibility that activating the visual cortex influences the sense of smell, people were tested on smell tasks before and after application of TMS, a non-invasive method of stimulating targeted brain areas. TMS, or transcranial magnetic stimulation, was directed towards the visual cortex using a protocol that had been previously shown by researchers at The Neuro to improve visual perception. TMS is already widely used in the treatment of certain disease symptoms, and because TMS alters brain activity in a targeted area, it provides a powerful test of the hypothesis that visual cortex activation changes olfactory perception.
The results demonstrate that visual cortex activity is incorporated into the processing of smells, proving for the first time a cross-wiring of the visual and olfactory systems in the brain. Interestingly, the team did not find evidence for similar cross-wiring between olfactory and auditory systems. This suggests that vision may play a special role in binding together information from the different senses, a possibility that the researchers are currently exploring. In addition to Drs. Pack and Lundstrom, the research was carried out by Jahan Jadauji, a Master's student, and Jelena Djordjevic, a clinical neuropsychologist and neuroscientist, both at The Neuro. This collaboration between researchers and clinicians was made possible by The Neuro's integrated research institute and hospital.
This study was funded by a Centre of Excellence in Commercialization and Research grant, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Swedish Research Council, and the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council, as well as support from Mrs. Anna Engel.
The Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital:
The Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital — The Neuro, is a unique academic medical centre dedicated to neuroscience. Founded in 1934 by the renowned Dr. Wilder Penfield, The Neuro is recognized internationally for integrating research, compassionate patient care and advanced training, all key to advances in science and medicine. The Neuro is a research and teaching institute of McGill University and forms the basis for the Neuroscience Mission of the McGill University Health Centre. Neuro researchers are world leaders in cellular and molecular neuroscience, brain imaging, cognitive neuroscience and the study and treatment of epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and neuromuscular disorders. The Montreal Neurological Institute was named as one of the Seven Centres of Excellence in Budget 2007, which provided the MNI with $15 million in funding to support its research and commercialization activities related to neurological disease and neuroscience.
Anita Kar | EurekAlert!
Smart Data Transformation – Surfing the Big Wave
02.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Informationstechnik FIT
Climate change could outpace EPA Lake Champlain protections
18.11.2016 | University of Vermont
Physicists of the University of Würzburg have made an astonishing discovery in a specific type of topological insulators. The effect is due to the structure of the materials used. The researchers have now published their work in the journal Science.
Topological insulators are currently the hot topic in physics according to the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Only a few weeks ago, their importance was...
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
09.12.2016 | Life Sciences
09.12.2016 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation
09.12.2016 | Health and Medicine