Standard Article

Olfaction: Central Processing

  1. John P McGann,
  2. Matt Wachowiak

Published Online: 28 SEP 2007

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0020290



How to Cite

McGann, J. P. and Wachowiak, M. 2007. Olfaction: Central Processing. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 28 SEP 2007

This is not the most recent version of the article. View current version (15 NOV 2013)


Olfactory receptor neurons in the nasal epithelium detect a huge variety of airborne chemicals (termed ‘odorants’) and encode information about these stimuli in the form of action potentials. This code is then transmitted to the brain, where patterns of neural activity represent the identity, concentration and temporal dynamics of the odorants. Neural processing of olfactory information at multiple levels in the brain mediates odour recognition, synthetic olfactory perceptions and provides feedback control to the initial stages of the olfactory pathway. This article presents some of the challenges in olfactory information processing and then reviews our current knowledge of the mechanisms by which the olfactory bulb and olfactory cortex represent odours and analyse olfactory information.


  • odour coding;
  • sensory coding;
  • olfactory bulb;
  • olfactory cortex;
  • smell;
  • piriform cortex