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When the sun prickles your nose: an EEG study identifying neural bases of photic sneezing


Langer, Nicolas; Beeli, G; Jäncke, Lutz (2010). When the sun prickles your nose: an EEG study identifying neural bases of photic sneezing. PLoS ONE, 5(2):e9208.

Abstract

BACKGROUND: Exposure to bright light such as sunlight elicits a sneeze or prickling sensation in about one of every four individuals. This study presents the first scientific examination of this phenomenon, called 'the photic sneeze reflex'.
METHODOLOGY AND PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: In the present experiment, 'photic sneezers' and controls were exposed to a standard checkerboard stimulus (block 1) and bright flashing lights (block 2) while their EEG (electro-encephalogram) was recorded. Remarkably, we found a generally enhanced excitability of the visual cortex (mainly in the cuneus) to visual stimuli in 'photic sneezers' compared with control subjects. In addition, a stronger prickling sensation in the nose of photic sneezers was found to be associated with activation in the insula and stronger activation in the secondary somatosensory cortex.
CONCLUSION: We propose that the photic sneeze phenomenon might be the consequence of higher sensitivity to visual stimuli in the visual cortex and of co-activation of somatosensory areas. The 'photic sneeze reflex' is therefore not a classical reflex that occurs only at a brainstem or spinal cord level but, in stark contrast to many theories, involves also specific cortical areas.

Abstract

BACKGROUND: Exposure to bright light such as sunlight elicits a sneeze or prickling sensation in about one of every four individuals. This study presents the first scientific examination of this phenomenon, called 'the photic sneeze reflex'.
METHODOLOGY AND PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: In the present experiment, 'photic sneezers' and controls were exposed to a standard checkerboard stimulus (block 1) and bright flashing lights (block 2) while their EEG (electro-encephalogram) was recorded. Remarkably, we found a generally enhanced excitability of the visual cortex (mainly in the cuneus) to visual stimuli in 'photic sneezers' compared with control subjects. In addition, a stronger prickling sensation in the nose of photic sneezers was found to be associated with activation in the insula and stronger activation in the secondary somatosensory cortex.
CONCLUSION: We propose that the photic sneeze phenomenon might be the consequence of higher sensitivity to visual stimuli in the visual cortex and of co-activation of somatosensory areas. The 'photic sneeze reflex' is therefore not a classical reflex that occurs only at a brainstem or spinal cord level but, in stark contrast to many theories, involves also specific cortical areas.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Psychology
Dewey Decimal Classification:150 Psychology
Language:English
Date:2010
Deposited On:22 Dec 2010 09:14
Last Modified:07 Dec 2017 05:03
Publisher:Public Library of Science (PLoS)
ISSN:1932-6203
Free access at:PubMed ID. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0009208
PubMed ID:20169159

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