Human Skin Can Detect Odors, Some of Which May Help Trigger Healing

Olfactory cells occur all over the body, not just in the nose

Photo: Jade Brookbank/13/Ocean/Corbis

On top of the several hundred types of olfactory receptors that are found in the human nose, the human body has another 150 types of smell receptors found in more unexpected locations in the body—the heart, the liver and the gut, the New Scientist reports. Skin, too, harbors unique olfactory receptors. And those receptors, it seems, might play a role in healing. 

In a new study, researchers identified five different olfactory receptors on the surface of the skin and cloned one of those receptors, Discovery News reports. They exposed the cloned receptors to ten different synthetic odors derived from sandalwood—which was used by ancient East Asians as both a perfume and a healing agent—as well as to actual sandalwood odors.

Some of these smells started the cells on a process that was, according to Discovery News, "characteristic of wound healing." Four of the eleven odors had a positive effect on healing and one synthetic sandalwood odor in particular, called Sandalore, showed the greatest healing boost. "Sandalore activated the cloned smeller cells in skin, thereby inducing a calcium-signaling cascade that dramatically increased the proliferation and migration of cells," Discovery News describes. Cell proliferation after exposure to Sandalore also increased by more than 30 percent, the New Scientist adds. 

Skin olfactory receptors aren't quite as sensitive as the ones in human noses, though—the concentrations of these odors was "a thousand times higher than those needed to activate a receptor in the nose," New Scientist says. 

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