Chapter 9. Hearing, Vestibular Perception, Taste, and Smell
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By NATALIE ANGIER Whether to enliven a commute, relax in the evening or drown out the buzz of a neighbor’s recreational drone, Americans listen to music nearly four hours a day. In international surveys, people consistently rank music as one of life’s supreme sources of pleasure and emotional power. We marry to music, graduate to music, mourn to music. Every culture ever studied has been found to make music, and among the oldest artistic objects known are slender flutes carved from mammoth bone some 43,000 years ago — 24,000 years before the cave paintings of Lascaux. Given the antiquity, universality and deep popularity of music, many researchers had long assumed that the human brain must be equipped with some sort of music room, a distinctive piece of cortical architecture dedicated to detecting and interpreting the dulcet signals of song. Yet for years, scientists failed to find any clear evidence of a music-specific domain through conventional brain-scanning technology, and the quest to understand the neural basis of a quintessential human passion foundered. Now researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have devised a radical new approach to brain imaging that reveals what past studies had missed. By mathematically analyzing scans of the auditory cortex and grouping clusters of brain cells with similar activation patterns, the scientists have identified neural pathways that react almost exclusively to the sound of music — any music. It may be Bach, bluegrass, hip-hop, big band, sitar or Julie Andrews. A listener may relish the sampled genre or revile it. No matter. When a musical passage is played, a distinct set of neurons tucked inside a furrow of a listener’s auditory cortex will fire in response. Other sounds, by contrast — a dog barking, a car skidding, a toilet flushing — leave the musical circuits unmoved. Nancy Kanwisher and Josh H. McDermott, professors of neuroscience at M.I.T., and their postdoctoral colleague Sam Norman-Haignere reported their results in the journal Neuron. The findings offer researchers a new tool for exploring the contours of human musicality. © 2016 The New York Times Company
By RACHEL NUWER For all the havoc that zebra mussels, Asian carp, round gobies and dozens of other alien species have wrought on the Great Lakes, those waters have never known a foe like the sea lamprey. The vampirelike parasites cost many millions each year in depleted fisheries and eradication efforts. Wildlife managers have long used lampricide — the lamprey version of pesticide — with mixed results. Now, an innovative control program seeks to improve on that method by using pheromones to trick the bloodsuckers into voluntarily corralling themselves in designated areas, to then be trapped or poisoned. But achieving this depends on cracking the fish’s olfactory language. “The broad goal is to understand how this animal makes decisions,” said Michael Wagner, a fish ecologist at Michigan State University. “Then, we want to use that understanding to guide lampreys’ movements by manipulating the landscape of fear and opportunity.” Lampreys look like the stuff of horror films: a slithering, tubular body topped with a suction-cup mouth ringed with row upon row of hooked yellow teeth. With this mouth, a sea lamprey anchors to its fish prey and uses its rasping tongue to drill into the victim’s flesh. It remains there for up to a month, feeding on blood and body fluids. Even if a fish survives the attack, the gaping wound left behind often results in death. In their natural ranges, lampreys are important components of food webs. The problems begin only when they shift from native to invader. Sea lampreys slipped into Lake Ontario through the Erie Canal in the mid-19th century, and then made it past Niagara Falls around 1919 with the renovation of the Welland Canal. In the lakes, lampreys found a utopia: no predators, and bountiful prey that had no natural defenses against their voracious appetites. Biological disaster ensued. © 2016 The New York Times Company
Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste)
Link ID: 21869 - Posted: 02.08.2016
by Bethany Brookshire Unless you’re in the middle of biting into a delicious Reuben sandwich, you might forget that taste is one of the fundamental senses. “It’s required for our enjoyment of food,” explains Emily Liman, a taste researcher at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. “Without taste … people stop eating. They don’t enjoy their food.” A life without the sweet jolt of sugar or the savory delights of umami seems, well, tasteless. When you put that mouthwatering combination of corned beef, Swiss cheese, Thousand Island dressing, sauerkraut and rye in your mouth, the chemicals in the sandwich stimulate taste buds on your tongue and soft palate. Those taste buds connect to the ends of nerve fibers extending delicately into the mouth. Those nerve fibers are the ends of cells located in the geniculate ganglion, a ball of cells nestled up against the ear canal on the side of your head. From there, taste sensations head toward the brain. Chemical messengers bridge the gap between the taste bud and the end of the nerve fiber. But what chemical is involved depends on the type of cell within the bud. There are three types of taste cells (imaginatively titled I, II and III). Type I is not well-understood, but it may be a kind of support cell for other taste cells. Type II, in contrast, is better known. These taste cells sense the slight bitterness of the rye seeds, the sweet edge of the Thousand Island dressing and the savory umami of the beef. They pass that delightful message on using the chemical ATP. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016
By SINDYA N. BHANOO Climate change may affect wood rats in the Mojave Desert in a most unusual way. A new study finds that warmer weather reduces their ability to tolerate toxins in the creosote bush, which they rely on for sustenance. The consequences may be dire for the wood rats. “There’s not much more they can eat out there,” said Patrice Kurnath, a biologist at the University of Utah and one of the study’s authors. She and her colleagues reported their findings in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. The leaves of the creosote bush contain a resin full of toxic compounds. They are known to cause kidney cysts and liver failure in laboratory rats. Wild wood rats, however, generally tolerate the poisons. Ms. Kurnath and her colleagues monitored the wood rats as they ate the leaves in warmer temperatures — around 83 degrees Fahrenheit. Although highs in the Mojave can reach the 80s and 90s during the summer, much of the year is cooler. The rats became less tolerant of the toxins and began to lose weight. The reason may have to do with how the liver functions in warmer weather, Ms. Kurnath said. The liver is the body’s primary detoxifying organ. When a mammalian liver is active, it increases internal body temperature. “In warmer weather, maybe you’re not producing huge amounts of heat and you’re not breaking down the toxins,” Ms. Kurnath said. © 2016 The New York Times Company
By Elizabeth Pennisi PACIFIC GROVE, CALIFORNIA—Bats have an uncanny ability to track and eat insects on the fly with incredible accuracy. But some moths make these agile mammals miss their mark. Tiger moths, for example, emit ultrasonic clicks that jam bat radar. Now, scientists have shown that hawk moths (above) and other species have also evolved this behavior. The nocturnal insects—which are toxic to bats—issue an ultrasonic “warning” whenever a bat is near. After a few nibbles, the bat learns to avoid the noxious species altogether. The researchers shot high-speed videos of bat chases in eight countries over 4 years. Their studies found that moths with an intact sound-producing apparatus—typically located at the tip of the genitals—were spared, whereas those silenced by the researchers were readily caught. As the video shows, when the moths hear the bat’s clicks intensifying as it homes in, they emit their own signal, causing the bat to veer off at the last second. It could be that, like the tiger moths, the hawk moths are jamming the bat’s signal. But, because most moth signals are not the right type to interfere with the bat’s, the researchers say it’s more likely that the bat recognizes the signal and avoids the target on its own. Presenting here last week at a meeting of the American Society of Naturalists, the researchers say this signaling ability has evolved three times in hawk moths and about a dozen more times overall among other moths. © 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Science
Link ID: 21810 - Posted: 01.23.2016
By Kerry Klein With their suction cup mouths filled with concentric circles of pointy teeth that suck the body fluid of unsuspecting victims, lampreys may seem like the stuff of horror movies. And indeed the 50-centimeter-long, eellike creatures can wreak havoc on freshwater communities when they invade from the sea, with a single sea lamprey able to kill 18 kilograms of fish in its lifetime. Now, the U.S. government has approved of a new way to combat these fearsome fish by using their own sense of smell against them. Sea lampreys are a particular problem in the Great Lakes regions of the United States and Canada. They hitchhiked into the region more than a century ago, likely attaching themselves to ships or fish that traveled along shipping channels from the Atlantic Ocean. Although most lampreys are mere parasites in their native habitats, those in the Great Lakes are far worse, says Nicholas Johnson, a research ecologist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hammond Bay Biological Station on Lake Huron in Millersburg, Michigan. “They kill their host, they get too big, they eat too much,” he says. “They’re really more of a predator.” After the toothy invaders proliferated in the mid-20th century, ecosystems all but collapsed, taking prosperous fishing and tourism industries with them. “It’s fair to say that lamprey[s] changed the way of life in the region,” says Marc Gaden of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, a joint U.S. and Canadian organization based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that’s tasked with managing the rebounding ecosystems. “Just about every fishery management decision that we make to this day has to take lamprey into consideration.” © 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Science
By Geoffrey Giller The experience of seeing a lightning bolt before hearing its associated thunder some seconds later provides a fairly obvious example of the differential speeds of light and sound. But most intervals between linked visual and auditory stimuli are so brief as to be imperceptible. A new study has found that we can glean distance information from these minimally discrepant arrival times nonetheless. In a pair of experiments at the University of Rochester, 12 subjects were shown projected clusters of dots. When a sound was played about 40 or 60 milliseconds after the dots appeared (too short to be detected consciously), participants judged the clusters to be farther away than clusters with simultaneous or preceding sounds. Philip Jaekl, the lead author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow in cognitive neuroscience, says it makes sense that the brain would use all available sensory information for calculating distance. “Distance is something that's very difficult to compute,” he explains. The study was recently published in the journal PLOS ONE. Aaron Seitz, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of California, Riverside, who was not involved in the work, says the results may be useful clinically, such as by helping people with amblyopia (lazy eye) improve their performance when training to see with both eyes. And there might be other practical applications, including making virtual-reality environments more realistic. “Adding in a delay,” says Nick Whiting, a VR engineer for Epic Games, “can be another technique in our repertoire in creating believable experiences.” © 2016 Scientific American,
Link ID: 21807 - Posted: 01.21.2016
Bret Stetka In June of 2001 musician Peter Gabriel flew to Atlanta to make music with two apes. The jam went surprisingly well. At each session Gabriel, a known dabbler in experimental music and a founding member of the band Genesis, would riff with a small group of musicians. The bonobos – one named Panbanisha, the other Kanzi — were trained to play in response on keyboards and showed a surprising, if rudimentary, awareness of melody and rhythm. Since then Gabriel has been working with scientists to help better understand animal cognition, including musical perception. Plenty of related research has explored whether or not animals other than humans can recognize what we consider to be music – whether they can they find coherence in a series of sounds that could otherwise transmit as noise. Many do, to a degree. And it's not just apes that respond to song. Parrots reportedly demonstrate some degree of "entrainment," or the syncing up of brainwave patterns with an external rhythm; dolphins may — and I stress may — respond to Radiohead; and certain styles of music reportedly influence dog behavior (Wagner supposedly honed his operas based on the response of his Cavalier King Charles Spaniel). But most researchers agree that fully appreciating what we create and recognize as music is a primarily human phenomenon. Recent research hints at how the human brain is uniquely able to recognize and enjoy music — how we render simple ripples of vibrating air into visceral, emotional experiences. It turns out, the answer has a lot to do with timing. The work also reveals why your musician friends are sometimes more tolerant of really boring music. © 2015 npr
By C. CLAIBORNE RAY Q. We know that aquatic mammals communicate with one another, but what about fish? A. Fish have long been known to communicate by several silent mechanisms, but more recently researchers have found evidence that some species also use sound. It is well known that fish communicate by gesture and motion, as in the highly regimented synchronized swimming of schools of fish. Some species use electrical pulses as signals, and some use bioluminescence, like that of the firefly. Some kinds of fish also release chemicals that can be sensed by smell or taste. In 2011, a scientist in New Zealand suggested that what might be called fish vocalization has a role, at least in some ocean fish. In the widely publicized work, done for his doctoral thesis at the University of Auckland, Shahriman Ghazali recorded reef fish in the wild and in captivity, and found two dominant vocalizations, the croak and the purr, in choruses that lasted up to three hours, as well as a previously undescribed popping sound. The sounds of one species recorded in captivity — the bigeye, or Pempheris adspersa — carried 100 feet or more, and the researcher suggested it could be used to keep a group of fish together during nocturnal foraging. Another species, the bluefin gurnard, or Chelidonichthys kumu, was also very noisy, he found. “Vocalization” is a bit of a misnomer, as the sounds these fish make are produced by contracting and vibrating the swim bladder, not by using the mouth. © 2015 The New York Times Company
By Christopher Intagliata Back in ancient times, philosophers like Aristotle were already speculating about the origins of taste, and how the tongue sensed elemental tastes like sweet, bitter, salty and sour. "What we discovered just a few years ago is that there are regions of the brain—regions of the cortex—where particular fields of neurons represent these different tastes again, so there's a sweet field, a bitter field, a salty field, etcetera." Nick Ryba [pron. Reba], a sensory neuroscientist at the National Institutes of Health. Ryba and his colleagues found that you can actually taste without a tongue at all, simply by stimulating the "taste" part of the brain—the insular cortex. They ran the experiment in mice with a special sort of brain implant—a fiber-optic cable that turns neurons on with a pulse of laser light. And by switching on the "bitter" sensing part of the brain, they were able to make mice pucker up, as if they were tasting something bitter—even though absolutely nothing bitter was touching the tongues of the mice. In another experiment, the researchers fed the mice a bitter flavoring on their tongues—but then made it more palatable by switching on the "sweet" zone of the brain. "What we were doing here was adding the sweetness, but only adding it in the brain, not in what we were giving to the mouse." Think adding sugar to your coffee—but doing it only in your mind. The findings appear in the journal Nature. © 2015 Scientific American
Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste)
Link ID: 21648 - Posted: 11.20.2015
Rachel England Brussels sprouts, Marmite, stinky cheese … these are all foods guaranteed to create divisions around the dinner table –and sometimes extreme reactions. A friend once ordered a baked camembert at dinner and I had to physically remove myself from the vicinity, such was its overpowering stench. Yet foods that once turned my stomach – mushrooms and prawns, in particular – now make a regular appearance on my plate. How is it that my opinion of a juicy grilled mushroom has gone from yuk to yum after 30 years of steadfast objection? And why is it that certain foods leave some diners gagging theatrically while others tuck in with vigour? Taste is a complicated business. In evolutionary terms we’re programmed to prefer sweeter flavours to bitter tastes: sweet ripe fruits provide a good source of nutrients and energy, for example, while bitter flavours can be found in dangerous plant toxins, which we’re better off avoiding. We’re also more likely to go for fatty foods with a high calorie count which would provide the energy needed for hunting our next meal. But now we live in a world where bitter vegetables such as kale reign supreme, kids salivate over eye-wateringly sour sweets and hunting dinner is as strenuous as picking up the phone. There are some environmental factors at play. When you eat something, molecules in the food hit your taste cells in such a way as to send a message to your brain causing one of five sensations: sweetness, saltiness, bitterness, sourness or umami (a loanword from Japanese meaning ‘pleasant savoury taste’). Mix up these taste cells and messages with external influences and the results can be dramatic. © 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited
Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste)
Link ID: 21628 - Posted: 11.12.2015
Your sense of smell might be more important than you think. It could indicate how well your immune system is functioning, a study in mice suggests. Evidence of a connection between the immune system and the olfactory system – used for sense of smell – has been building for some time. For instance, women seem to prefer the scent of men with different immune system genes to their own. Meanwhile, other studies have hinted that the robustness of your immune system may influence how extraverted you are. To investigate further, Fulvio D’Acquisto at Queen Mary University of London and his colleagues studied mice missing a recombinant activating gene (RAG), which controls the development of immune cells. Without it, mice lack a working immune system and some genes are expressed differently, including those involved in the olfactory system. “That rang bells, because people with immune deficiencies often lose their sense of smell,” says D’Acquisto. Systemic lupus erythematosus, an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks tissues in the skin, joints, kidneys, brain, and other organs, is one such example. His team measured how long it took mice to find chocolate chip cookies buried in their cages. Those missing RAG took five times as long as normal mice. They also failed to respond to the scent of almond or banana, which mice usually find very appealing – although they did still react to the scent of other mice. Further study uncovered abnormalities in the lining of their noses; physical evidence that their sense of smell might be disrupted. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Nicole Fisher , We know that the brain is neuroplastic — adapts to changes in behavior, environment, thinking and emotions — and may even rewire itself in certain ways. Life experience also teaches us that the tongue is a learning tool that shapes our brain. During early development, babies test everything by placing it in their mouths. As children age they stick out their tongues when concentrating on tasks such as drawing. Even as adults we let our tongue tell us about the world around us through eating, drinking and kissing. During basketball games, some players stick out their tongues while shooting. Now, knowing that there is such a rich nerve connection to the brain, scientists and doctors are turning to the tongue as a way to possibly stimulate the brain for neural retraining and rehabilitation after traumatic injuries or disease. The team at Helius Medical Technologies believe combining physical therapy with stimulation of the tongue may improve impairment of brain function and associated symptoms of injury. “We have already seen that stimulation of various nerves can improve symptoms of a range of neurological diseases. However, we believe the tongue is a much more elegant and direct pathway for stimulating brain structures and inducing neuroplasticity. We are focused on investigating the tongue as a gateway to the brain to hopefully ease the disease of brain injury,” said Dr. Jonathan Sackier, CMO at Helius. It has been argued by some that the era of small molecule is gone. Instead, recognition that the entire body is a closed electrical circuit, is leading to new therapeutic modalities that are known in certain circles as “electroceuticals.”
By Diana Kwon Six years before her husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurodegenerative disorder marked by tremors and movement difficulties, Joy Milne detected a change in his scent. She later linked the subtle, musky odor to the disease when she joined the charity Parkinson’s UK and met others with the same, distinct smell. Being one of the most common age-related disorders, Parkinson’s affects an estimated seven million to 10 million people worldwide. Although there is currently no definitive diagnostic test, researchers hope that this newly found olfactory signature will lead help create one. Milne, a super-smeller from Perth, Scotland, wanted to share her ability with researchers. So when Tilo Kunath, a neuroscientist at the University of Edinburgh, gave a talk during a Parkinson’s UK event in 2012, she raised her hand during the Q&A session and claimed she was able to smell the disease. “I didn’t take her seriously at first,” Kunath says. “I said, ‘No, I never heard of that, next question please.’” But months later Kunath shared this anecdote with a colleague and received a surprising response. “She told me that that lady wasn’t wrong and that I should find her,” Kunath says. Once the researchers found Milne, they tested her claim by having her sniff 12 T-shirts: six that belonged to people with Parkinson’s and six from healthy individuals. Milne correctly identified 11 out of 12, but miscategorized one of the non-Parkinson’s T-shirts in the disease category. It turned out, however, she was not wrong at all—that person would be diagnosed with Parkinson’s less than a year later. © 2015 Scientific American
When we hear speech, electrical waves in our brain synchronise to the rhythm of the syllables, helping us to understand what’s being said. This happens when we listen to music too, and now we know some brains are better at syncing to the beat than others. Keith Doelling at New York University and his team recorded the brain waves of musicians and non-musicians while listening to music, and found that both groups synchronised two types of low-frequency brain waves, known as delta and theta, to the rhythm of the music. Synchronising our brain waves to music helps us decode it, says Doelling. The electrical waves collect the information from continuous music and break it into smaller chunks that we can process. But for particularly slow music, the non-musicians were less able to synchronise, with some volunteers saying they couldn’t keep track of these slower rhythms. Rather than natural talent, Doelling thinks musicians are more comfortable with slower tempos because of their musical training. As part of his own musical education, he remembers being taught to break down tempo into smaller subdivisions. He suggests that grouping shorter beats together in this way is what helps musicians to process slow music better. One theory is that musicians have heard and played much more music, allowing them to acquire “meta-knowledge”, such as a better understanding of how composers structure pieces. This could help them detect a broader range of tempos, says Usha Goswami of the University of Cambridge. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
By JAMES GORMAN No offense to tenors, but outside of opera, a high male voice is seldom, if ever, considered seductive. Scientific research has shown that women find deep male voices attractive, and the same is true in other species, like howler monkeys. Stories from Our Advertisers But evolution is often stingy in its gifts, and researchers investigating male competition to reproduce have discovered an intriguing trade-off in some species of howler monkeys: the deeper the call, the smaller the testicles. Jacob Dunn of Cambridge University, one of the leaders of the research, said that species evolved either to make lower-frequency sounds, or have larger testicles, but none had both a very low sound and very large testicles. “It’s a great study,” said Stuart Semple, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Roehampton in London who was not involved in the research. “It shows this really clear trade-off.” Dr. Dunn and other researchers, including W. Tecumseh Fitch, of the University of Vienna, and Leslie A. Knapp, of the University of Utah, studied the size of a bone in the vocal apparatus, which is directly related to how deep the calls are, and the size of testicles, to come up for averages in nine species of howlers. They had been intrigued by great variations in both the size of the howlers’ hyoid bones in museum collections and in the size of the monkeys’ testicles as seen in the field. Dr. Knapp said that some of them are large enough that they are quite obvious “when you look up into the trees.” They used the museum samples of the bone and living monkeys in zoos for testicle measurements, and reported their findings Thursday in the journal Current Biology. © 2015 The New York Times Company
By WILLIAM GRIMES The first show at the Museum of Food and Drink’s new space in Brooklyn is “Flavor: Making It and Faking It,” and it wastes no time in getting to the point. “What makes your favorite food so delicious?” the text on a large free-standing panel near the entrance asks. The one-word answer: “Chemicals.” The word is deflating. It’s a little like being told that the human soul has a specific atomic weight. Chemicals? Yuck. But maybe not. Flavors come in two varieties, natural and artificial, but what do the words really mean? This is the looming question in an exhibition about food and culture that opens next Wednesday, in a museum that until now has been a free-floating idea rather than a building with an address. The show follows the history of lab-created flavors from the middle of the 19th century, when German scientists created artificial vanilla, to the present day, when the culinary spin doctors known as flavorists tweak and blend the myriad tastes found in virtually every food product on supermarket shelves. Flavor is a complex, beguiling subject. At one of several “smell machines” throughout the exhibition, where specific aromas are emitted through silver hoses at the push of a button, visitors learn that coffee gets a little lift — the je ne sais quoi that makes it irresistible in the morning — from a sulfur compound also found in skunk spray. Tiny edible pellets distributed from gumball machines send the message in tactile form. This is an exhibition that is not just hands-on, but tongue-on and nostrils-on. © 2015 The New York Times Company
Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste)
Link ID: 21536 - Posted: 10.21.2015
The invaders put on a disguise and infiltrate the nest with dark plans: to kill the queen and enslave the kingdom. Usually when ants take pupae from other colonies as future slaves all hell breaks loose in ensuing battles. The enslaved individuals sometimes even strike back against their overlords. It’s a relatively dramatic affair, usually resulting in the aggressive slave-makers carrying the pupae back to their own colony, says Terrence McGlynn at California State University. But a species of ant found in the eastern US, Temnothorax pilagens, does things differently. It is the first ant species known to waltz into a colony and enslave others without killing, and one of a few that take not only pupae but adult workers, too. “This was extremely surprising as ants are usually able to detect foreign species or even individuals from a different colony through their chemical profile and react aggressively towards them,” says Isabelle Kleeberg at Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Germany, whose team has found how they get away with it. Kleeberg tracked the behaviour of T. pilagens and their preferred slave species, Temnothorax ambiguus, in 43 raiding experiments using colour-marked individuals. In each experiment the colonies of these two ant species, each housed in a plastic box, were placed 12 centimetres apart from each other. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Using a sensitive new technology called single-cell RNA-seq on cells from mice, scientists have created the first high-resolution gene expression map of the newborn mouse inner ear. The findings provide new insight into how epithelial cells in the inner ear develop and differentiate into specialized cells that serve critical functions for hearing and maintaining balance. Understanding how these important cells form may provide a foundation for the potential development of cell-based therapies for treating hearing loss and balance disorders. The research was conducted by scientists at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), part of the National Institutes of Health. In a companion study led by NIDCD-supported scientists at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and scientists at the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University, researchers used a similar technique to identify a family of proteins critical for the development of inner ear cells. Both studies were published online on October 15 in the journal Nature Communications. “Age-related hearing loss occurs gradually in most of us as we grow older. It is one of the most common conditions among older adults, affecting half of people over age 75,” said James F. Battey, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., director of the NIDCD. “These new findings may lead to new regenerative treatments for this critical public health issue.” Specialized sensory epithelial cells in the inner ear include hair cells and supporting cells, which provide the hair cells with crucial structural and functional support. Hair cells and supporting cells located in the cochlea — the snail-shaped structure in the inner ear — work together to detect sound, thus enabling us to hear. In contrast, hair cells and supporting cells in the utricle, a fluid-filled pouch near the cochlea, play a critical role in helping us maintain our balance.
By Nancy Szokan Sensory deprivation is Sushma Subramanian’s topic in the October issue of Women’s Health magazine, and she offers a couple of extreme examples. Julie Malloy, 33, from York, Pa., describes living without the sense of touch: “I was born with a rare sensory illness that leaves me unable to feel pain, temperature, deep pressure, or vibrations in my arms, legs, and the majority of my chest and back. I use vision to compensate as much as I can. . . . “I always wash my face with cold water; I once burned myself without realizing it. . . . When I drive, I can’t really tell how hard I’m pushing on the pedals. I watch others really enjoy it when someone kisses their arm or get tingly when someone hugs them, but I can’t even feel anything during sex.” Erin Napoleone, 31, from Havre de Grace, Md., describes losing her sense of smell: “As a teen, I was in a car accident. A few days later, I watched my father make homemade tomato sauce — but I didn’t smell a thing. Then I couldn’t detect my mom’s familiar perfume. A head CT scan confirmed my sense of smell was gone for good.” The magazine points out that some senses naturally deteriorate with age and that taking care of your skin — say, by keeping it moisturized and protecting it from damage — can help preserve the sense of touch. But olfactory nerves facing “prolonged exposure to rank odors (think freeway fumes or curbside trash)” can be permanently damaged.