From Nose to Brain: Un-Sensed Electrical Currents Applied in the Nose Alter Activity in Deep Brain Structures

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Rules linking patterns of olfactory receptor neuron activation in the nose to activity patterns in the brain and ensuing odor perception remain poorly understood. Artificially stimulating olfactory neurons with electrical currents and measuring ensuing perception may uncover these rules. We therefore inserted an electrode into the nose of 50 human volunteers and applied various currents for about an hour in each case. This induced assorted non-olfactory sensations but never once the perception of odor. To validate contact with the olfactory path, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure resting-state brain activity in 18 subjects before and after un-sensed stimulation. We observed stimulation-induced neural decorrelation specifically in primary olfactory cortex, implying contact with the olfactory path. These results suggest that indiscriminate olfactory activation does not equate with odor perception. Moreover, this effort serendipitously uncovered a novel path for minimally invasive brain stimulation through the nose.

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