Clever skin cells can detect aromas to accelerate wound healing

You might think that your nose is the only part of your body that smells things, but you’d be wrong. Oh, so very wrong. Olfactory receptors (i.e. the things that detect odours) are also found in the colon – which seems unfortunate – and, if you’re a man, in the prostate and sperm (yep, that’s how they hunt down our eggs).

Scientists have now discovered that these receptors are also in keratinocytes, the outer layer of skin cells. What’s more, if these receptors are activated, it can result in an increase in cell growth, which should result in quicker wound repair.

And it turns out that those incense-burning meditators might have been onto something all along, as the scent the researchers used to activate the skin cells was sandalwood. Taking cultured keratinocyte cells and human skin, they used a synthetic sandalwood scent to activate OR2AT4, the cells’ olfactory receptor. They then observed an increase in calcium in the cells which led to an increase in and faster movement of keratinocytes, which usually facilitates wound healing. The team scratched some tissue samples to confirm that this was the case.

In the study, which was published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, the researchers say that investigating this mechanism further could lead to new medications and even cosmetics (so skincare that actually does what it says on the packaging might not be such a far off dream after all).

Your turn to reveal something exciting and new about the human body, patchouli.

Image via Nan Palmero’s Flickr.

Diane Shipley