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Bell’s Palsy Caused Mona Lisa’s Smile, Doctor Theorizes

January 30, 1987 GMT

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) _ The woman pictured in Leonardo Da Vinci’s ″Mona Lisa″ got her ethereal smile from a common nerve disorder, says a doctor who treats people suffering from the ailment.

The theory by Dr. Kedar K. Adour, a nose, ear and throat specialist, comes on the heels of one by computer artist Lillian Schwartz of Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, who suggested that Mona Lisa really might have been a kind of self-portrait of Da Vinci.

When patients suffering a temporary facial disfigurement called Bell’s palsy are told they suffer Mona Lisa’s disease, ″they feel 200 percent better,″ Adour was quoted as saying in the Feb. 2 issue of Physician’s Weekly.

Bell’s palsy probably caused partial degeneration of the nerves on the left side the face of the woman who posed for the famous painting, Adour said. The nerves then regenerated, causing drooping muscles to contract, he said.

Adour told a recent medical meeting in Santa Fe, N.M., the condition would explain why Mona Lisa’s smile is a little higher on the left side of her face and why her left eye is narrower than her right.

Bell’s palsy, which is not dangerous and usually is temporary, occurs when a nerve controlling muscles on one side of the face becomes swollen and pinched where it leaves the skull, paralyzing the muscles.

The resulting weakness on one side of the face causes the corner of the mouth to droop, making it difficult or impossible to close the eye on that side and distorting smiles or frowns.

The exact cause of the disorder is unknown, but it sometimes occurs after middle ear infections or during or after pregnancy. Adour says he believes the woman in the painting developed the condition during pregnancy.

Attacks of Bell’s palsy usually occur suddenly, often overnight. Recovery usually is complete and, in such cases, starts within two to three weeks. Severe cases may requre surgery.