A designated odor-language integration system in the human brain

Jonas K. Olofsson*, Robert S. Hurley, Nicholas E. Bowman, Xiaojun Bao, M. Marsel Mesulam, Jay A. Gottfried

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Odors are surprisingly difficult to name, but the mechanism underlying this phenomenon is poorly understood. In experiments using event-related potentials (ERPs) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we investigated the physiological basis of odor naming with a paradigm where olfactory and visual object cues were followed by target words that either matched or mismatched the cue. We hypothesized that word processing would not only be affected by its semantic congruency with the preceding cue, but would also depend on the cue modality (olfactory or visual). Performance was slower and less precise when linking a word to its corresponding odor than to its picture. The ERP index of semantic incongruity (N400), reflected in the comparison of nonmatching versus matching target words, was more constrained to posterior electrode sites and lasted longer on odor-cue (vs picture-cue) trials. In parallel, fMRI crossadaptation in the right orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and the left anterior temporal lobe (ATL) was observed in response to words when preceded by matching olfactory cues, but not by matching visual cues. Time-series plots demonstrated increased fMRI activity inOFCand ATL at the onset of the odor cue itself, followed by response habituation after processing of a matching (vs nonmatching) target word, suggesting that predictive perceptual representations in these regions are already established before delivery and deliberation of the target word. Together, our findings underscore the modality-specific anatomy and physiology of object identification in the human brain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)14864-14873
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number45
StatePublished - Nov 5 2014


  • Evoked potentials
  • Functional MRI
  • Human olfactory system
  • Language
  • Lexical-semantic system
  • Orbitofrontal cortex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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