The what and when of olfactory working memory in humans

Andrew I. Yang*, Gulce N. Dikecligil, Heidi Jiang, Sandhitsu R. Das, Joel M. Stein, Stephan U. Schuele, Joshua M. Rosenow, Kathryn A. Davis, Timothy H. Lucas, Jay A. Gottfried*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Encoding and retaining novel sequences of sensory stimuli in working memory is crucial for adaptive behavior. A fundamental challenge for the central nervous system is to maintain each sequence item in an active and discriminable state, while also preserving their temporal context. Nested neural oscillations have been postulated to disambiguate the “what” and “when” of sequences, but the mechanisms by which these multiple streams of information are coordinated in the human brain remain unclear. Drawing from foundational animal studies, we recorded local field potentials from the human piriform cortex and hippocampus during a working memory task in which subjects experienced sequences of three distinct odors. Our data revealed a unique organization of odor memories across multiple timescales of the theta rhythm. During encoding, odors elicited greater gamma at distinct theta phases in both regions, time stamping their positions in the sequence, whereby the robustness of this effect was predictive of temporal order memory. During maintenance, stimulus-driven patterns of theta-coupled gamma were spontaneously reinstated in piriform cortex, recapitulating the order of the initial sequence. Replay events were time compressed across contiguous theta cycles, coinciding with periods of enhanced piriform-hippocampal theta-phase synchrony, and their prevalence forecasted subsequent recall accuracy on a trial-by-trial basis. Our data provide a novel link between endogenous replay orchestrated by the theta rhythm and short-term retention of sequential memories in the human brain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4499-4511.e8
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number20
StatePublished - Oct 25 2021


  • ECoG
  • gamma
  • hippocampus
  • iEEG
  • olfaction
  • phase amplitude coupling
  • piriform cortex
  • replay
  • theta
  • working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Neuroscience(all)


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