Tiny Shocks Win by a Nose

Sense of smell shows electric response; technique could help PTSD patients
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 28, 2008 4:00 PM CDT
Tiny Shocks Win by a Nose
Retired Marine Maj. Gamal Awad poses at his home in Temecula, Calif., Sept. 5, 2007. Awad suffers from post traumatic stress disorder which followed his rescue work on Sept. 11, 2001, at the Pentagon. The PTSD was aggravated by tours in Kuwait and Iraq.    (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Electric shocks can sharpen the sense of smell, a finding that suggests new ways of altering sensory perception, the Chicago Tribune reports. MRIs showed subjects’ brains actually changing after researchers administered tiny shocks, which improved their ability to distinguish between similar smells. Because many psychological conditions relate to the senses, the results could shed light on possible treatments.

“We often don't appreciate just how malleable the brain is,” said a neuroscientist not involved with the Northwestern University research. Memories associated with events that triggered post-traumatic stress disorder, for example, may warp the sense of smell. The lead researcher says the findings open up the possibility of using the technique to make patients less sensitive to smells that worsen their condition. (Read more sense of smell stories.)

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