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Hum Brain Mapp. 2007 May;28(5):363-72.

Involvement of the left anterior insula and frontopolar gyrus in odor discrimination.

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Neuropsychology Section, Department of Neurology, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, Indiana 46202, USA.


Discriminating between successively presented odors requires brief storage of the first odor's perceptual trace, which then needs to be subsequently compared to the second odor in the pair. This study explores the cortical areas involved in odor discrimination and compares them with findings from studies of working-memory, traditionally investigated with n-back paradigms. Sixteen right-handed subjects underwent H(2) (15)O positron emission tomography during counterbalanced conditions of odorless sniffing, repeated single odor detection, multiple odor detection, and conscious successive discrimination between odor pairs. Eight odorants were delivered using a computer-controlled olfactometer through a birhinal nasal cannula. Conscious successive odor discrimination evoked significantly greater activity in the left anterior insula and frontopolar gyrus when compared to reported sensory detection of the identical odors. Additional activation was found in the left lateral orbital/inferior frontal and middle frontal gyri when discrimination was compared to the odorless condition. The left anterior insula is likely involved in the evaluation of odor properties. Consistent with other studies, frontopolar and middle frontal gyrus activation is more likely related to working memory during odor discrimination.

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