This discovery could shed light on the root cause of human neurological disorders like schizophrenia and Parkinson's disease.
The West Virginia University (WVU) researchers explained that the nervous system dispatches two messages whenever it wants the muscles to do something. The first is the actual command, which it sends to the muscles.
The other is a corollary discharge, an exact copy of that command that is sent to the part of the brain that interprets the data provided by the senses. The brain uses this corollary discharge to distinguish which sensation is coming from the body's movement and which one is produced by other sources.
Earlier studies have examined the function of a corollary discharge for the senses of sight and hearing. However, there is a sparseness of scientific literature regarding the olfactory senses. (Related: You could lose your sense of smell: It is just another side effect of eating high-fat foods.)
WVU doctorate candidate Phil Chapman and his fellow researchers studied the role that corollary discharges fulfilled for the sense of smell. They reported how the motor control center uses those discharges to keep the olfactory system appraised about the movement of the moth's wings. The movement would be directly affecting or even disrupting the sense of smell by disturbing the air that carries the scent.
Based on their findings, Chapman explained that many neurological disorders are implied to be linked to the failure of corollary discharges. Furthermore, there are more than one type of corollary discharge connected to the sense of smell. The WVU team is determining the identity and specific function of each type of discharge.
The WVU researchers reported that failed corollary discharges do not filter out the movements of the insect. Instead, they increase the ability of the olfactory system to encode data.
Interestingly, the olfactory system is organized along similar lines in both vertebrates and invertebrates. This is most evident when comparing the olfactory system of insects to that of humans. The strong analogy makes an insect's olfactory system a good substitute for its human equivalent.
Chapman related how movement and other physical actions can very well change the perception of one's environment. The nervous system has evolved to ensure the stability of that perception.
Still, he acknowledged that there is a lot to learn about the way humans perceive their surroundings, especially with regards to the movements they are making.
"This study pushes the field of neuroscience forward by understanding that when we ask questions about how sensory systems function," said Chapman. "We must also think about how animals move throughout their environment and actually experience it."
Chapman is working alongside WVU researchers Kevin Daly and Andrew Dacks, who acted as the co-authors of the research paper. Their study is supported by a grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.
“This publication is the culmination of several years of coordinated effort across two labs and several students,” explained Daly, who served as an adviser to Chapman for the study. “Our research highlights how fundamental insights about how the brain works can be made by the study of animals like insects, which use relatively simplified nervous systems to tackle many of the same real word problems that our own brains must solve.”
Read more studies and stories on human neurological disorders at Brain.news.