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Mouse nasal cavity

The inside of a mouse’s nose is rich in nerve fibres (green) that carry sensory information. Credit: F. Li et al./Cell

Neuroscience

How the brain makes us go ‘Achoo!’

Researchers track down a signalling molecule and brain cells involved in generating a sneeze.

Scientists have pinpointed the precise populations of neurons that produce the sneeze — a crucial reflex that enables us to remove pathogens and irritants from our airways.

Researchers had previously identified a sneeze-evoking region in part of the brainstem known as the ventromedial spinal trigeminal nucleus (SpV). But the specific cells responsible for sneezing were unknown.

To find those neurons, Qin Liu at the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, Missouri, and her colleagues made mice sneeze by getting them to inhale droplets of sneeze-inducing compounds such as capsaicin, which gives chilli peppers their kick. The team then screened the signalling molecules released by the sensory neurons of the nose and zeroed in on one that was essential for sneezing, called neuromedin B. The authors also located the neurons in the SpV that received this molecular messenger.

The team identified a set of neurons that receives sneeze-eliciting signals from the SpV. These neurons lie in a brain region that controls exhalation, an action required for sneezing. Injecting neuromedin B into this region made mice go ‘achoo!’ — thus revealing a nose-to-brainstem pathway behind sneezes.

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Selected materials found in the gut contents of Tollund Man

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Archaeology

The guts of a ‘bog body’ reveal sacrificed man’s final meal

Tollund Man, who lived more than 2,000 years ago, ate well before he was hanged.
Illustration of Earth with white lines showing the magnetic field.

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Ageing of an artwork with graphene

After 130 hours of artificial ageing by visible light, the painting Triton and Nereid has lost some of the purple tint to the figures’ right, but a graphene film kept the bright pink at upper left undimmed. Credit: M. Kotsidi et al./Nature Nanotechnol.

Materials science

A graphene cloak keeps artworks’ colours ageless

A layer of carbon atoms preserves a painting’s vibrant hues — and can be applied and removed without damage.
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