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J Neurosci. 2002 Dec 15;22(24):10819-28.

Functional heterogeneity in human olfactory cortex: an event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging study.

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  • 1Wellcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience, Institute of Neurology, London, WC1N 3BG, United Kingdom.


Studies of patients with focal brain injury indicate that smell perception involves caudal orbitofrontal and medial temporal cortices, but a more precise functional organization has not been characterized. In addition, although it is believed that odors are potent triggers of emotion, support for an anatomical association is scant. We sought to define the neural substrates of human olfactory information processing and determine how these are modulated by affective properties of odors. We used event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in an olfactory version of a classical conditioning paradigm, whereby neutral faces were paired with pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant odors, under 50% reinforcement. By comparing paired (odor/face) and unpaired (face only) conditions, odor-evoked neural activations could be isolated specifically. In primary olfactory (piriform) cortex, spatially and temporally dissociable responses were identified along a rostrocaudal axis. A nonhabituating response in posterior piriform cortex was tuned to all odors, whereas activity in anterior piriform cortex reflected sensitivity to odor affect. Bilateral amygdala activation was elicited by all odors, regardless of valence. In posterior orbitofrontal cortex, neural responses evoked by pleasant and unpleasant odors were segregated within medial and lateral segments, respectively. The results indicate functional heterogeneity in areas critical to human olfaction. They also show that brain regions mediating emotional processing are differentially activated by odor valence, providing evidence for a close anatomical coupling between olfactory and emotional processes.

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