Many massage therapists incorporate aromatherapy, or the use of particular scents to effect physical or psychological benefits, into massage sessions. Researchers studying how odors are detected and processed by the brain have discovered a previously unknown step in that process.

The four-year study, by researchers in Colorado and Utah, focuses on how mice respond to odors. It showed that smells are picked up by the olfactory bulb, the first stop on the way to the brain, then sent to the olfactory cortex for further analysis, according to a University of Colorado at Denver press release.

And the researchers discovered something else: a dialogue between the bulb and the cortex conducted by rapidly firing nerve cells.

“It was originally thought that the olfactory bulb filtered and the olfactory cortex made decisions on whether something is, for example, edible,” said lead researcher Diego Restrepo, professor of Cell and Developmental Biology and co-director of the University of Colorado School of Medicine Center for NeuroScience. “Our study says it’s not quite like that.

“You process information on reward in the olfactory bulb, send it to the cortex and there is a dialogue between the two,” he added. “Then the brain will act.”

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