Doctors there say they’ve found people who can smell just as well as anyone else, despite missing the key area of the brain responsible for olfaction.
According to the researchers, who published their work [November 6] in Neuron, the discovery was a complete accident. They had been looking through brain scans of young, left-handed female volunteers for another smelling-related study when they came across something unusual. One of the volunteers seemed to be lacking the olfactory bulb, a tiny structure near the front bottom of the brain.
But according to the volunteer’s self-reporting, she had no trouble with her sense of smell at all. And they soon found scans of another woman with no olfactory bulb but a seemingly normal sense of smell.
It’s possible, for instance, that they have tiny but functioning olfactory bulbs that are too small to be seen in brain scans. But the most likely scenario, according to the researchers, is that the cases are a newly discovered and extreme example of the brain’s ability to rewire itself in order to stay healthy—otherwise known as brain plasticity.
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