Episodic memory is often imbued with multisensory richness, such that the recall of an event can be endowed with the sights, sounds, and smells of its prior occurrence. While hippocampus and related medial temporal structures are implicated in episodic memory retrieval, the participation of sensory-specific cortex in representing the qualities of an episode is less well established. We combined functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) with a cross-modal paradigm, where objects were presented with odors during memory encoding. We then examined the effect of odor context on neural responses at retrieval when these same objects were presented alone. Primary olfactory (piriform) cortex, as well as anterior hippocampus, was activated during the successful retrieval of old (compared to new) objects. Our findings indicate that sensory features of the original engram are preserved in unimodal olfactory cortex. We suggest that reactivation of memory traces distributed across modality-specific brain areas underpins the sensory qualities of episodic memories.
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