Right Orbitofrontal Cortex Mediates Conscious Olfactory Perception

Wen Li*, Leonardo Lopez, Jason Osher, James D. Howard, Todd B. Parrish, Jay A. Gottfried

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


Understanding how the human brain translates sensory impressions into conscious percepts is a key challenge of neuroscience research. Work in this area has overwhelmingly centered on the conscious experience of vision at the exclusion of the other senses-in particular, smell. We hypothesized that the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) is a central substrate for olfactory conscious experience because of its privileged physiological role in odor processing. Combining functional magnetic resonance imaging, peripheral autonomic recordings, and olfactory psychophysics, we studied a case of complete anosmia (smell loss) in a patient with circumscribed traumatic brain injury to the right OFC. Despite a complete absence of conscious olfaction, the patient exhibited robust "blind smell," as indexed by reliable odor-evoked neural activity in the left OFC and normal autonomic responses to odor hedonics during presentation of stimuli to the left nostril. These data highlight the right OFC's critical role in subserving human olfactory consciousness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1454-1463
Number of pages10
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2010


  • consciousness
  • lesion
  • olfactory perception
  • orbitofrontal cortex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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