Ultra-slow mechanical stimulation of olfactory epithelium modulates consciousness by slowing cerebral rhythms in humans


The coupling between respiration and neural activity within olfactory areas and hippocampus has recently been unambiguously demonstrated, its neurophysiological basis sustained by the well-assessed mechanical sensitivity of the olfactory epithelium. We herein hypothesize that this coupling reverberates to the whole brain, possibly modulating the subject's behavior and state of consciousness. The olfactory epithelium of 12 healthy subjects was stimulated with periodical odorless air-delivery (frequency 0.05 Hz, 8 s on, 12 off). Cortical electrical activity (High Density-EEG) and perceived state of consciousness have been studied. The stimulation induced i) an enhancement of delta-theta EEG activity over the whole cortex mainly involving the Limbic System and Default Mode Network structures, ii) a reversal of the overall information flow directionality from wake-like postero-anterior to NREM sleep-like antero-posterior, iii) the perception of having experienced an Altered State of Consciousness. These findings could shed further light via a neurophenomenological approach on the links between respiration, cerebral activity and subjective experience, suggesting a plausible neurophysiological basis for interpreting altered states of consciousness induced by respiration-based meditative practices.

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