Johns Hopkins scientists have uncovered new details of how smelly things create signals in the nose that eventually go to the brain. The findings raise issues about how the process involved has been described for many years in biology textbooks.
The textbooks say that our sense of smell converts odors into brain signals just like our vision converts light into brain signals. But the new work shows that while a key protein pathway is used in both, it behaves quite differently in the nose than it does in the eye. The researchers findings are published in the June 24 issue of Science.
"Most of the information about this pathway comes from studies of vision, and people just assumed it worked the same way elsewhere in the body," says King-Wai Yau, Ph.D., professor of neuroscience in Johns Hopkins Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences. "But instead of being a model for other systems in the body, our visual system is probably pretty unique."
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