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Keywords:

  • anterior cingulate cortex;
  • emotion;
  • olfaction;
  • orbitofrontal cortex;
  • pyriform cortex;
  • subjective pleasantness

Abstract

Odours are important in emotional processing; yet relatively little is known about the representations of the affective qualities of odours in the human brain. We found that three pleasant and three unpleasant odours activated dissociable parts of the human brain. Pleasant but not unpleasant odours were found to activate a medial region of the rostral orbitofrontal cortex. Further, there was a correlation between the subjective pleasantness ratings of the six odours given during the investigation with activation of a medial region of the rostral orbitofrontal cortex. In contrast, a correlation between the subjective unpleasantness ratings of the six odours was found in regions of the left and more lateral orbitofrontal cortex. Moreover, a double dissociation was found with the intensity ratings of the odours, which were not correlated with the BOLD signal in the orbitofrontal cortex, but were correlated with the signal in medial olfactory cortical areas including the pyriform and anterior entorhinal cortex. Activation was also found in the anterior cingulate cortex, with a middle part of the anterior cingulate activated by both pleasant and unpleasant odours, and a more anterior part of the anterior cingulate cortex showing a correlation with the subjective pleasantness ratings of the odours. Thus the results suggest that there is a hedonic map of the sense of smell in brain regions such as the orbitofrontal cortex, and these results have implications for understanding the psychiatric and related problems that follow damage to these brain areas.