Summary: A new study reveals how smells we encounter throughout life are encoded in memory. The findings could help develop new smell tests for Alzheimer’s disease.
Source: University of Toronto.
Neurobiologists at the University of Toronto have identified a mechanism that allows the brain to recreate vivid sensory experiences from memory, shedding light on how sensory-rich memories are created and stored in our brains.
Using smell as a model, the findings offer a novel perspective on how the senses are represented in memory, and could explain why the loss of the ability to smell has become recognized as an early symptom of Alzheimer’s disease.
“Our findings demonstrate for the first time how smells we’ve encountered in our lives are recreated in memory,” said Afif Aqrabawi, a PhD candidate in the Department of Cell & Systems Biology in the Faculty of Arts & Science at U of T, and lead author of a study published this month in Nature Communications.
“In other words, we’ve discovered how you are able to remember the smell of your grandma’s apple pie when walking into her kitchen.”
There is a strong connection between memory and olfaction – the process of smelling and recognizing odours – owing to their common evolutionary history. Examining this connection in mice, Aqrabawi and graduate supervisor Professor Junchul Kim in the Department of Psychology at U of T found that information about space and time integrate within a region of the brain important for the sense of smell – yet poorly understood – known as the anterior olfactory nucleus (AON).
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