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The science behind smell

This is the fourth blog in a new series discussing the 5 senses. This blog will focus on smell.

Olfaction is our sense of smell. It is a complex sense involving specialized receptors found in the nose and brain.

The olfactory epithelium, which contains olfactory sensory cells, is located in the nostril. Separating it from the brain is a bone containing little holes called the cribriform plate. This allows projections to travel to the brain. Found above the cribriform plate, the olfactory bulb is a bundle of nerves that send projections through the cribriform plate to the olfactory epithelium.

To stimulate a smell, a molecule has to bind to a receptor and cause an action potential. It does this by first binding to a receptor, which causes a cascade of events inside the cell. This allows ions to flow into the cell and trigger an action potential.

The labeled line theory of olfaction states that each receptor responds to a specific stimulus and directly links to the brain. Meanwhile, the vibrational theory suggests that the vibrational frequency of a molecule gives it a specific odor. Finally, the steric theory asserts that odor molecules fit into receptors like a lock and key.

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This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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