When love is in the air, you smell it Discovery links nose, sensations of romance

April 08, 1993|By Newsday

The late versifier Ogden Nash got it wrong. His blunt advic about seduction -- "Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker" -- fails to account for activities of the nose.

What Mr. Nash didn't know, and what science is just now learning, is that everyone's nose has special sensors, tiny pits sitting just inside the nostrils that collect chemical come-ons from the opposite sex.

Men, it seems, respond only to female chemicals; women sense only the signals from men. And in both, the sex chemicals, or pheromones, seem to cause a "feel good" sensation, setting the stage for romance.

Neuroscientist Thomas Getchell said the little pits in the nose, called the VNO, or vomeronasal organs, include nerve cells connected directly to the brain. He said they are visible in embryos but had been thought to be unused in adults.

Pheromones -- known from animal and insect research to be powerful sex lures -- are released from the skin of humans, too, according to David Berliner, a former professor of anatomy at the University of Utah, who is building a business around the discovery. His company, Erox Corp. in New York City, hopes to begin marketing perfume-like products that exploit this sensory system.

The discovery of the receptors "is a brand new finding," said Mr. Getchell of the University of Kentucky Medical School.

The discovery also suggests that plastic surgeons doing nose jobs may unwittingly be doing nasal neutering, Mr. Getchell said. If the receptors are removed during cosmetic surgery, perhaps sex signaling ceases.

Dr. Laurence LeWinn, a plastic surgeon in Rancho Mirage, Calif., said he sees no evidence of damage to sexual activity from nose surgery.

"While my patients don't tell me everything," he said, "nobody has complained about loss of libido after rhinoplasty.

"Obviously," he added, "if this work is confirmed and the receptor spot is located, I have no doubt that every effort will be made to avoid it in all nasal surgery."

A report on the findings was published yesterday in the Wall Street Journal. A scientific report is scheduled for publication this month in the journal Neuroreport.

Mr. Berliner said more than a dozen types of pheromones have been isolated that cause different responses. Some seem to cause a feeling of aversion to a given person.

"Sometimes you're in front of a person talking and you feel very good about that person, but you don't know why," Mr. Berliner said. In other situations, there seems to be "an automatic dislike" to a person, perhaps also triggered by pheromones.

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