Monell Research Update
Meet Johan Lundström: Anosmia Neuroscientist
Cognitive neuroscientist Johan Lundström, PhD, has studied the human sense of smell for his entire career. He joined the faculty of the Monell Center in 2007 and also holds a faculty position in Clinical Neuroscience at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden.
Dr. Lundstrӧm conducts research with smell loss patient populations in both Sweden and the United States. He is especially interested in how the human brain changes after smell loss. For example, sensory loss in one sense may alter function in the other senses, due to a reorganization in the brain. Johan is investigating how smell loss affects the way the brain processes other sensory information. He recently discovered that anosmics are superior at processing combined visual and auditory information (multi-sensory information) compared to those with normal olfactory ability. As might be expected, those without a sense of smell for their entire lives (congenital anosmics) are even better at multi-sensory processing than those who have suffered a more recent smell loss. He observes changes in the size of certain brain areas as well as changes in the connectivity of different regions in the brain.
Smell training is a “brain exercise.” Dr. Lundstrӧm recently began a study in Philadelphia with individuals who have smell loss resulting from nasal polyps, who often do not show complete recovery of smell following surgery to remove the polyps. He will examine whether smell training and non-invasive stimulation of the brain, either singly or together, enhance the brain’s processing of smell and lead to a full recovery of the sense of smell. Preliminary results suggest that smell training does improve the outcome for patients with nasal polyps.
Can You Smell With Your Tongue? An Update
Some of you may have seen recent news coverage of Monell scientist Hakan Ozdener’s discovery of smell receptors on the tongue. While Dr. Ozdener was able to show that these receptors can detect odor molecules, it is too early to know what their function is. Unlike smell receptors in the nose, tongue smell receptors likely do not communicate directly with the brain. Instead, they may interact with taste receptors to modify taste perception by the tongue. Continuing research will seek to understand if and how the tongue smell receptors interact with taste. Other studies will look at whether the tongue smell receptors are functional in acquired and congenital anosmics.
This work may eventually lead to strategies to enhance taste perception in people with smell disorders, but it is too early to predict whether this might be the case. So, stay tuned over the next few years!