Scientists step closer to understanding how sensory perception affects the brain

The new study looks at how our sense of smell has an influence on memory storage in the brain

How sensory perception affects the brain is far from fully understood.

However, a new study has found that the piriform cortex - the region of the brain relating to the sense of smell - has a direct influence on information storage in the brain’s most important memory structure, the hippocampus.

Scientists from Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany conducted the research by stimulating the piriform cortex with electrical impulses in the brains of rats.

“We were very surprised to see that the hippocampus directly responds to stimulation of the piriform cortex,” said Christina Strauch, one of the scientists behind the research.

The basis of this experiment was to discover the efficacy of information transmitted across synapses and store memory content, which is known as synaptic plasticity.

In a second step, Strauch, and her colleague Denise Manahan-Vaughan, examined to what extent the piriform cortex competes with the entorhinal cortex - the area of the brain which functions as the hub in a widespread network for memory, navigation and time perception - in driving hippocampal synaptic plasticity.

Synaptic plasticity recognised as the process of synaptic activity, the movement between two nerve cells, resulting in changes in its strength to contribute to learning and memory.

The scientists found activating the afferent pathway of this structure, known as the perforant path, triggered completely different reaction patterns in the hippocampus to those generated in the piriform cortex.

“The study gives us a theoretical basis for understanding how olfaction plays such a special role in memory formation and retrieval,” said Manahan-Vaughan.

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