Efficient recognition of odorous objects universally shapes animal behavior and is crucial for survival. To distinguish kin from nonkin, mate from nonmate and food from nonfood, organisms must be able to create meaningful perceptual representations of odor qualities and categories. It is currently unknown where and in what form the brain encodes information about odor quality. By combining functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) with multivariate (pattern-based) techniques, we found that spatially distributed ensemble activity in human posterior piriform cortex (PPC) coincides with perceptual ratings of odor quality, such that odorants with more (or less) similar fMRI patterns were perceived as more (or less) alike. We did not observe these effects in anterior piriform cortex, amygdala or orbitofrontal cortex, indicating that ensemble coding of odor categorical perception is regionally specific for PPC. These findings substantiate theoretical models emphasizing the importance of distributed piriform templates for the perceptual reconstruction of odor object quality.
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