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Olfactory influence on tongue activity.

O. Mameli, F. Melis, M. A. Caria, M. V. Podda, A. Solinas, A. Becciu, P. L. De Riu


Recent findings have shown that olfactory stimulation by brief puffs of air odorized with amyl acetate induces several patterns of response in rabbit hypoglossal neurons. It has been argued that the functional role of the olfactory input may be the modulation of tongue muscular tone during the oral phase of digestion. In the present research, the peripheral effect of olfactory-hypoglossal modulation was analyzed. Both the spike traffic along the fibers of the hypoglossal nerve and the electromyographic activity of single tongue muscles (genioglossus, styloglossus, superior longitudinal and hyoglossus) were recorded before, during and after olfactory stimulation. Results showed that brief puffs of air odorized with amyl acetate induced a significant change in the efferent volleys along the hypoglossal nerve, as well as a substantial modulation of tongue muscle activity. Olfactory stimulation induced a significant increase in the spontaneous activity of both type I and type II genioglossal fibers; excitation followed by inhibition both in tonic and phasic styloglossal fibers; excitatory responses in tonic and phasic superior longitudinal fibers and short-lasting excitatory responses in the hyoglossal fibers. The diverse patterns of activation of the tested muscle and the significant differences between fibers, tonically or phasically controlled by the XIIth neurons, indicate that olfaction may be strongly involved in tongue reflex regulation. Different functional hypothesis are discussed about the role played by olfaction in the economy of tongue muscle activity.

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