Sniffing out clues to our sense of smell


US study finds similarities between species.


Brain circuitry has evolved to help mammals distinguish different odours.

Salk Institute

This image shows a section of the front part of the piriform cortex, an area of the brain involved in the sense of smell.

The layers have been stained with florescent antibodies to help US neuroscientists better distinguish key differences.

How mammals' brains evolved to tell different smells apart has long been something of a mystery.

Now, researchers from the Salk Institute and UC San Diego report say they have discovered that at least six types of mammals – from mice to cats – distinguish odours in roughly the same way, using circuitry in the brain that's evolutionarily preserved across species.

"The study yields insights into organisational principles underpinning brain circuitry for olfaction in mammals that may be applied to other parts of the brain and other species," says Salk’s Charles Stevens.

The findings are reported in the journal Current Biology.

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  1. https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0960982219307730
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